SAN DIEGO -- Irving Jaffee, who went from a roller skating paper route in the Bronx to three Olympic speed skating gold medals, has died at the age of 74.
Jaffee died at his San Diego home Friday.
Jaffee was a poor boy from the streets of New York who electrified the sports world in 1928 and 1932 by winning three Olympic speed skating titles in an era when the United States was considered a poor relation by European rulers of the sport.
A native of the Bronx, N.Y., who stole his first pair of ice skates from his sister, Jaffee became a national sports hero at the age of 19 in 1928 when he won the 10,000-meter Olympic race at St. Moritz.
Four years later he again astounded the skating world by winning both the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Despite the victories and honors his Olympic triumphs brought, Jaffee was still poor -- so poor he sold his silver skates and Olympic medals to help pay doctors bills for his sick mother.
'In those days I never had the $3,500 I needed to get them back,' he recalled. 'Years later, I offered $5,000 for them but I never got them back. Now I have the money and no skates or medals.'
With the help of former Postmaster General Jim Farley, Jaffee turned professional after the 1932 Olympics and went on a 10-city tour. He then went into the skate manufacturing business and became a successful businessman.
Jaffee, who used roller skates to cover his newspaper delivery route as a boy in the Bronx, recalled that his sister gave him his first pair of ice skates 'because I had stolen her's one day in Central Park.'
'They were three sizes too big because she figured I would grow into them,' he said. 'I had to wear nine pair of socks in order to skate in them.'
Jaffee's most memorable triumph was in the 10,000-meter race at Lake Placid in 1932 when he caught six competitors in the last 500 yards and lurched across the finish line on his face. U.S. Winter Olympic organizers had insisted on the American style of 'pack racing' that year instead of the race-against-the-clock style favored by Europeans.
'Charging into the teeth of a 40-mile gale, feet balked by rain-softened ice, strength utterly spent by the strain of the six-mile grind,' an eye witness wrote. 'Irving Jaffee, former DeWitt Clinton High School boy, dived face foremost over the finish line to win the final heat of the 10,000-meter speed skating race today and gain an Olympic championship for the U.S.A.'
It stood for years as one of the United States' greatest moments at Winter Olympic Games -- perhaps until 1980 when Eric Heiden won five gold medals and the U.S. hockey team scored a stunning win over the Russians en route to the gold medal.