“The sportive, knightly battle awakens the best human characteristics. It doesn’t separate, but unites the combatants in understanding and respect. It also helps to connect the countries in the spirit of peace. That’s why the Olympic Flame should never die.” – Adolf Hitler speaking about the 1936 Games.
The 1936 Olympics were awarded to Berlin, Germany in 1931, two years before the Nazi Party was elected to power. The Nazi’s wanting to fully demonstrate their prowess built a new 100,000 seat stadium for track and field, constructed six new gymnasiums, and many other venues for the Games. Also they had the most technology applied to the Games. Radio reached 40 plus countries; also installed was a closed circuit television system. The German Post Office broadcast over 70 hours of the games to special viewing areas throughout Berlin and to Potsdam, and to select private television sets.
This games would use the Olympic Flame, and it would be the first to have a torch relay to bring the flame from Greece to Berlin.
Leni Riefenstahl a noted filmmaker of German propaganda was hired by the German Olympic Committee for the sum of $7 million, to film the Games. The film, Olympia, that resulted from this, pioneered the way that the Games would be filmed in the future.
The Nazi’s, and Hitler especially did not want Jewish or Black participants at these games in order to promote the Nazi idea of government and racial superiority. When many countries threatened to boycott the games, the Nazi’s relented and allowed Black and Jewish athletes to compete.
The United States was planning on boycotting the games, due to the anti-Semitic policies. Avery Brundage opposed the boycott saying that the Jewish athletes were being treated fairly and that politics played no role in sports and the two should not be entwined.
The big performer at the 36 Olympics was Jesse Owens, winning 4 gold medals and putting a large dent in the Nazi’s idea of racial superiority. One of the stories that does not get nearly enough publicity is that Owens almost failed to qualify for the long jump. One of the German competitors Luz Long noted a flaw in Owens technique and pointed this out to Owens, who went on to win the Gold in the event. Long was given the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for sportsmanship, posthumously for his actions. Owens also won the 200 meters – placing second in that event was Jackie Robinson’s brother Mack.
One of the stories that gets told repeatedly is that Hitler refused to shake Owens hand after he won the events. This is true, but not because Owens was African-American. On the first day of the Games Hitler greeted only the German athletes after winning performances. The IOC instructed Hitler that he either needed to greet all champions if he were going to greet anyone, so he chose to not greet any of the athletes after that first day.
In weightlifting Egyptian Khadr El Touni, who was a middleweight actually lifted more weight than the gold medalist in the heavyweight division, the only time that this has ever happened in the Olympics. In this process El Touni broke both Olympic and World records, and the records he set stood for 13 years. Hitler went to see this marvel of the games, and came away so impressed that he renamed a street in the Berlin Olympic village after El Touni.
The Germans would win the medal count with 89 total medals 33g 26s 30b, the United States would finish second with 56 medals 24g 20s 12b.
This would be the last Games until 1948 due to the events of World War II.