1936 Olympics: Owens’ Golden Moment

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1936 Summer Olympics

Host: Berlin, Germany

Medal table winner: Germany

Held between August 1st and 16th, the tenth games of the Olympiad will always be remembered for its tragic intoxication with the German Nazi regime. In controversial circumstances, Berlin defeated Barcelona for the right to host and only allowed Jewish and black athletes to compete after a threatened boycott. Rather sadly, the games will be forever tainted by Hitler’s orchestration and his attempts to use the tournament to demonstrate the power of his ‘master race’.

The 1936 games saw the torch relay debut

The 1936 games saw the torch relay debut

Aside from the controversy, the facilities built for the games were state of the art in Germany’s enthusiasm to up-stage the Los Angeles edition. Moreover, the number of nations participating leaped from 37 to 49 with the Olympic carnival returning to Europe. Afghanistan, Bermuda, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Lichtenstein all made their Olympic debuts in Berlin.

The 1936 games also saw the first torch relay, being lit in Olympia, before winding up Eastern Europe to the German capital after eight days. The torch relays now go on for over one hundred days, with the tradition being carried to this very day. Also, for the first time since 1908, the US didn’t top the medal count as hosts Germany topped the chart with a tally of 89.

Pigeon disaster 

The opening ceremony saw one of the more comedic events of the games, a stain on Adolf Hitler’s typically extravagant display. American distance runner Louis Zamperini told of how the crowd suffered a bombardment of pigeon manure after a technical error. Upon the release of 25,000 pigeons, the firing of a cannon startled the birds.

As Zamperini himself phrased it, “We had straw hats, flat straw hats, and you could heard the pitter-patter on our straw hats, but we felt sorry for the women, for they got it in their hair, but I mean there were a mass of droppings, and I say it was so funny…”

Jesse Owens: For the US and the world

There was no doubt that American sprinter Jesse Owens proved the star of the games, after all, his legacy remains synonymous with the Olympics today. The Alabama born hero won four gold medals in the 100m, 200m (in which he set a world record of 20.7s), long jump (OR) and 4x100m relay (WR). His achievement was simply staggering and one that proves a near impossible feat to this day.

However, Owens did more than just win four gold medals but make a statement for humanity. For a black sprinter to take such an emphatic haul in Hitler’s back yard showed how the Olympics, even hosted by a toxic regime, shows human togetherness and the standing up to evil.

Yet the sadness of the story is that Owens was not only ignored by Hitler but was never acknowledged by US president Franklin Roosevelt. In fact, the quadruple gold medalist had to enter via the back door at the airport on his arrival back in the US, solely because of his ethnicity….

Jesse Owens, a sporting God and a personification of adversity in a troubled world.

German equestrian dominance 

In a year of topping the medal count, Germany blew the field away in the equestrian calendar, winning every single gold medal. Kurt Hasse proved one of the heroes as he bagged a gold medal in the team and individual jumping on his horse Tora. However, Hasse would sadly perish only eight years later on the eastern theatre of World War 2.

Controversy did hang over the individual eventing competition though, with accusations of host country cheating lingering in the gossip. The Berlin Olympics’ cross-country course saw a suspect water jump that caused an odd amount of falls by competitors due to being shocked by the severity of the drop. Comparatively, not a single German athlete fell… coincidence?

Furthermore, 1932 gold medalist Takeichi Nishi made his return as reigning champion yet could not retain his title with his trusty horse, Uranus.

Weightlifting superstar

Legendary weightlifter Khadr El Touni

Legendary weightlifter Khadr El Touni

The 1936 Olympics also saw the introduction of Egyptian weightlifter Khadr El Touni to the world stage. After already sealing the middleweight class title, the incredibly determined Egyptian competed on for another grueling 45 minutes to surpass the total of reigning champion Rudolf Ismayr.

El Touni lifted a monumental tally of 387.5kg, setting a new Olympic and world record, the latter of which standing for 13 years. The Egyptian caused a media storm and Adolf Hitler himself became intrigued by the athlete whom had dethroned his two native world champions. Curiously, El Touni even had a street in the Olympic village named after him under orders from the German leader.

Other sports

Rather unsurprisingly it was India who yet again won the field hockey tournament with more mind bogglingly scores and merciless attacks. France were put to the sword 10-0 in the semi finals before the hosts were swept away in a blood bath gold medal match, the Germans slumped to an 8-1 loss.

There was Japanese success in the marathon as Son Kitei set a new Olympic record in the discipline. However, there was controversy in the medal presentation as Kitei and bronze medalist Nan Shoryu bowed in protest of Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula. Britain’s Ernest Harper bagged the silver.

Italy retained their football gold medal in a victory sandwiched between their 1934 and 1938 FIFA World Cup wins. The smooth Italian side played dream-like football to breeze past the opposition with their revolutionary style of play. Austria proved the side to fall in the final as a Annibale Frossi brace gave the Italians a 2-1 win in the final in front of 85,000 spectators.

The Olympic games would not resume until 1948 as a result of the Second World War (1939-1945) and its tidal wave of global destruction. The 1940 games due to be held in Tokyo and the ’44 installment scheduled for London would both be cancelled.

Kobe, YJA Senior Sports Correspondent

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