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Emmett Toppino

Martin Emmett Toppino was a champion sprinter from New Orleans who won a gold medal at the 1932 Olympics as a member of the US 400-meter relay team.

Emmett Toppino

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Emmett Toppino. Unidentified

Martin Emmett Toppino was a champion sprinter from New Orleans who won a gold medal at the 1932 Olympics as a member of the US 400-meter relay team.

Born in New Orleans on July 1, 1909, Toppino attracted national attention as a sprinter while still attending Jesuit High School. He set a record in the 100-yard dash at the 1927 Southern Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) meet in Houston, Texas, covering the distance in 9.8 seconds. The world record at the time was 9.6 seconds. He also matched the world record time of 21.8 seconds in the 220-yard dash at the same meet. His feat was short-lived when the world record was broken just days later by Eddie Tolan of the University of Michigan.

Toppino enrolled at Loyola University in New Orleans and came under the guidance of Coach Tad Gormley. As a sophomore Toppino matched the world record in the 100-yard dash at 9.6 seconds on May 29, 1929, at the Southern AAU championships. At the 1931 National AAU meet in Lincoln, Nebraska, Toppino tied the meet record of 9.5 seconds in the second heat of the 100-yard dash that had been set just minutes before by Frank Wykoff of the University of Southern California in the first heat of the race. Wykoff was the world record holder at the time, with 9.4 seconds. The final heat had Wykoff in first at 9.5 seconds, followed by Toppino in second place and Tolan in third place.

The 1932 season saw Toppino equal the world record of 6.2 seconds in the sixty-yard dash at the Melrose Games at Madison Square Garden in New York City in February, followed by a 10.4-second time in the 100-meter dash that also equaled the world record. In the National AAU championships he finished a disappointing fourth in the 100-meter dash but still qualified for a place on the 1932 US Olympic team. However, his fourth-place finish eliminated any possibility of racing in the 100-meter dash, although he would be an alternate in the event of injury. He would also be a member of the relay team.

During the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, California, the 400-meter relay team consisted of Robert Kiesel, Hector Dyer, Wykoff, and Toppino. In the second qualifying heat on August 6, the US team set a new world record of 40.61 seconds, only to break that mark on August 7 with a 40.1-second time in the final, winning the gold medal. Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice described Toppino, who ran the second leg of the relay, as “a prairie fire fanned by a tornado.”

Toppino had graduated from Loyola with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry just before the start of the Olympics, and he returned to earn a master’s degree in chemistry. He began his career as a research chemist for an oil company, but shortly thereafter joined the Freeman Shoe Corporation, where he worked for the next thirty-five years.

Toppino was inducted into the Loyola Hall of Fame in 1964, the Greater New Orleans Hall of Fame in 1971, and Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1981. He died in New Orleans on September 8, 1971, at the age of sixty-two.