Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Olympics: Brief History of the Modern Games - 1936 Berlin

The 1936 Summer Olympics was the Games of the XI Olympiad and held in Berlin, Germany. These were the first Games to be televised with twenty-five large screens set up throughout Berlin to allow the local people to see the Games for free. The closed-circuit television system was radio networked to 41 countries. Despite being told not to The Nazis used the event to promote the superioity of the Aryan race and prominently displayed Nazi insignia throughout the stadium. Hitler was determined to have the Berlin Games a showcase and spent an estimated $25 million on the facilities including a new 100,000-seat track and field stadium, six gymnasiums, and many other smaller arenas.

The Olympiastadion (Olympic Stadium) was surrounded by the olympischer Platz, and both were designed by Werner March.

Forty nine (49) countries took part with 3963 competitors and although The Nazis prevented German Jews from competing theycould not stop Jews from other nations participating, and many did. The games were officially opened by Adolf Hitler. The Olympic Torch and rely was established at the Berlin Games.

An innovation of the 1936 Games was the Torch Relay, now a popular Olympic tradition. The torch was lit in Olympia, Greece, and travelled through seven countries in less than a fortnight before reaching Berlin for the Opening Ceremony.Athletes dug their own starting holes with small shovels.

The Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory was the first ever to sponsor a black sportsmen named James ‘Jesse’ Owens (US). He won four gold medals(the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and the long jump) wearing adidas track shoes. He was christened James Cleveland Owens and known to his school friends as 'J.C.' but after a new teacher mistook the sound of J. C., and called him 'Jesse'. The name stuck. In the 4 x 100 meter relay competition, two American-Jewish athletes, Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman, were dropped from the U.S. team after they had won places in the qualifying heats. They were replaced by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, who with their teammates Foy Draper and Frank Wycoff won the gold medal. It has long been suspected that U.S. Olympic Committee President Avery Brundageinsisted on the removal of Stoller and Glickman because they were Jewish (and the only Jews on the U.S. track team) so as not offend the Führer. Four fellow American Americans also won medals which did not please Herr Hitler, but the applause from the German crowds, especially for Owens, was thunderous.

Adolf Dassler had established himself with an international reputation as a master craftsman and maker of quality running shoes. After the lean war years (1914-1918) he developed a training shoe made from surplus tent canvas and rubber from fuel tanks. In 1948 he founded Adidas but the company was soon to split into Addas (later known as Adidas) and Puma. To give support to the running shoe Dassler added three side strips to the shoe which first appeared in 1949.

Jesse Owens’ track spikes were created by Adi Dassler and were incredibly light shoes with specially positioned, hand-forged spikes and a low-cut calf leather upper. Owens wore them to win the 200m and the 4x100m.

Helene Mayer was the German daughter of a Jewish father and won a silver medal in the women's fencing competition, individual foil. Her membership in a German fencing club had been withdrawn for racial reasons, but the Nazis were pressured by the international community to allow her to compete. She gave the Nazi salute on the victory stand and later became an American citizen.

Gretel Bergmann (Margaret Bergmann-Lambert) was a German Jewish athlete who competed as a high jumper during the 1930s. After the Nazis' accession to power in 1933, she was expelled from the club for being Jewish. Gretel’s parents sent her to the United Kingdom but the German government wanted her to return to Germany in order to help portray the nation as a liberal-minded, tolerant country. After threat to her family Greta returned to Germany, where she was allowed to prepare for the 1936 Olympic Games. Two weeks prior the opening of the Olympics, her accomplishment was stricken from the record books and she received a letter from the German sports authorities that she was being removed from the national team for under-performance. She was replaced by high jumper Dora Ratjen, who was later revealed to be a man who had been raised as a girl. In 1957 Ratjen declared he was forced by the Nazi Youth Movement to masquerade as a woman in an attempt to steal a medal in the games. In 1937 Grata left Germany and in 1999 the stadium in Laupheim, from which she had been barred in the 1930s, was named after her.

Marjorie Gestring, a 13-year-old American, won the women’s springboard diving event. She remains the youngest women’s gold medallist in Olympic history.

Denmark's 12-year-old Inge Sorensen won a bronze medal, making her the youngest medalist ever in an individual event.

Hungarian water polo player Olivier Halassy won his third medal despite the fact that one of his legs had been amputated below the knee following a streetcar accident.

Antifascists planned to host a “People’s Olympiad” in Barcelona at the Estadi Olympic de Montjuïc (now Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys - Barcelona's Olympic Sadium) as an alternative games but this was cancelled due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Reviewed 25/02/2016

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