The 2020 Tokyo Olympics has come to a close, but for Jewish North Carolinians this year’s games cannot compare to the 1924 Paris Olympics. There, Louis “Pinky” Clarke of Statesville won a gold medal running the second leg of the 4 X 100 meter relay. The USA team set a world record of 41.0 seconds. The second-place Britons were led by Harold Abrahams, the famed Jewish runner depicted in the movie “Chariots of Fire.”
Pinky Clarke was descended from two Statesville Jewish families and was raised in Congregation Emanuel. Henry Clarke was a distiller while Louis Pinkus, from whom Clarke took his nickname, operated a herbarium, which supplied flavorings to the local liquor industry.
As a student at Johns Hopkins in 1923, Clarke won the NCAA championship in the 100-yard dash. A year later he set a world indoor record in the event, running the distance in 9.8 seconds.
Forty years would pass before another Jewish Olympian with North Carolina pedigree would win a gold medal. In 1964, again in Tokyo, Brooklyn-born Larry Brown, who played collegiate basketball at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, played point guard for the USA championship team.