Ray Barbuti was born in Nassau County, New York. In 1924 while playing fullback at Lawrence, Long Island, New York high school he set a New York state record, which still stands (2013), scoring eight touchdowns in one game. He attended Syracuse University where he won the IC4A championship at 400 m in 1928 in a time of 48.8 seconds. In the same year, he won the AAU Championship in the 400 m dash with a time of 51.4. He played fullback on the Syracuse football teams of 1926, 1927, and 1928.,
His trainer, Peter Poole, let him run his two preferred distances, the 200 yd and the 400 yd, very seldom in the same competition, so Barbuti chose to run only the 400 m at the 1928 Summer Olympics. He won 400 m with a time of 47.8 and as anchor on the US 4 x 400 m relay he won his second gold medal in a world record time of 3:14.2.