Jewish National Fund - We Only Have ONE ISRAEL

Sybil Cooper
The Passing of a Legend

By: Brian Berk

"Just when I thought I was through with track, the urge was so great, that I took to my shoes again." Sybil Cooper, a.k.a. Syd Koff's statement in the April 11, 1934 Jewish Daily Bulletin does not even begin to tell the story of her exceptional life. On May 20, 1998, Sybil Cooper passed away at the tender age of eighty five due to cardiopulmonary arrest.

Cooper was a world´┐Żclass athlete amassing seven gold medals in the first two Maccabiah Games held in Palestine from 1932 to 1935. Sybil finished her impressive career competing in the 1940 AAU National Hurdling Championships. However, this was not before Cooper qualified for the 1936 and 1940 Olympic Games. Unfortunately, luck was not on Sybil's side either year. Cooper never competed against fellow Olympians because in 1936 who joined the Jewish Athletes boycott of the Nazi games and in 1940 Russia bombed the Olympic stadium in Helsinki and the games were cancelled.

Cooper's deftness and grace were never questioned. Doris Beshunsky Cooper's teammate and good friend asserts, "She was a girl with great spirit. She was undaunted and approached everything in life like that. She had a great sense of humor."

Probably the most interesting story about Sybil Cooper involves the fact that she was so good in track and field that competitors came up with every creative ways to beat her. In Cooper's prime, even her best female competition like "Babe" Dedrickson and Stella Walsh could not beat her. No woman could beat Sybil. Then it was decided that maybe a man could. A man dressed up as a woman to defeat her. Obviously, some people will do anything to win a race.

After her track career was over, Cooper lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She settled down as an artist in Greenwich Village, New York. Sybil is survived by her two sons Ellis and Steve (who contributed to this article). Cooper also has two grandchildren, Henry and Nicole. Sybil Cooper is a Jewish legend who will be severely missed.


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