Raymond J. Barbuti is a two-time Olympic champion in track and field (1928, Amsterdam) and a 1984 NYAC Hall of Fame inductee.
Barbuti was born on June 12th, 1905 in Nassau County, New York. Barbuti received a scholarship to attend Syracuse University for track and field and football. He served as team captain in both sports.
In 1928, Barbuti won the AAU national championship in the 400m. The race was run despite gale force winds, which resulted in almost impossible running conditions. However, as a football player, Barbuti was significantly bigger than most runners, which played to his advantage in the race. He won with a modest time of 51.4.
His slow time led people to write him off during the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, but Barbuti qualified for the final nonetheless. In one of the more exciting races of the Games, Barbuti narrowly beat Canadian James Ball to win the gold medal. In the last few meters of the race, Ball turned his head to check his position: an egregious mistake for an Olympic sprinter. Barbuti, on the other hand, lunged forward and crossed the finish line two tenths of a second before Ball.
A few hours after his victory, while he was out celebrating with friends, Barbuti was approached by General Douglas MacArthur. Oddly enough, MarArthur was serving as the president of the American Olympic Committee.
In 1927, the President of the American Olympic Committee (known today as the USOC) died suddenly with the Games in Amsterdam less than a year away. The Committee suggested that Major General Douglas MacArthur serve as the interim president. MacArthur was known as a staunch advocate of military athletics, and accepted his new position with zeal.
When MacArthur approached the newly anointed Olympic Champion, he declared that the US must win the 4x400m relay and that Barbuti must be on the team. At first, Barbuti graciously declined, explaining that he did not want to take the place of someone who had trained relentlessly to compete in the Olympics. MacArthur insisted, and Barbuti ultimately agreed. He and his teammates won the gold medal and set a world record in the process, winning in 3:14.2.
Barbuti would break another world record just a week later. Directly following the 1920, 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games, the United States and the British Empire competed against one another in a spirited yet informal competition. These competitions were held to continue the long standing tradition of track and field meets between the US and Great Britain which began in the 19th century. While there may have been intercollegiate meets earlier in the 19th century, the first real international meet was held in 1895 between the NYAC and the London Athletic Club. The meets of 1920, 1924 and 1928 are seen as a continuation of that tradition.
At the 1928 meet, Barbuti channeled his inner Bernie Wefers: a former NYAC athlete who set a world record at the 1895 international dual meet. Barbuti and the rest of his relay would go on to break the 4x440 yards world record with a time of 3:13.4.
During World War II Barbuti enlisted in the 83rd Bombardment Squadron of the US Air Force. While stationed in Gambut, Libya, in March of 1943, Barbuti coached a team of American soldiers against British and Australian counterparts in the first western desert track and field championships. Lacking a proper track, the meet was held on an airfield. The Americans took second place.
For his outstanding service, Barbuti was awarded both the Air Medal and the Bronze Star, and ultimately achieved the rank of Major.
Raymond Barbuti passed away on July 8, 1988 at the age of 83.