For the eightieth anniversary of the 1936 Summer Olympics we decided to publish our five favourite light-hearted facts about the ‘Nazi Games’. The ones that mostly got lost in the tragic decade that followed.
1.This was the first televised Olympic Games
Public viewing rooms established in Berlin and nearby Potsdam for the 1936 Olympics meant that over 150,000 people were able to see black and white broadcasts of the different competitions. Athletes in the Olympic Village were also able to watch live coverage in a recreation building known as Hindenburg Hall.
With live transmission totalling 72 hours worth of footage, despite being low quality by modern standards, the distinction of the ‘Nazi Games’ being the first Olympics to feature live video broadcasting was a propaganda coup for a regime seeking to highlight the superiority of German technology.
2. The torch relay from Olympia was introduced in 1936
Runners carrying a burning torch from Mount Olympus to Berlin’s Olympic Stadium was the idea of the German Olympic chief Dr Carl Diem. Some 3,422 runners, each covering 1,000 metres of a relay, carried a symbolic torch 3,422km from Greece to Germany, through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria.
To a regime that sought to present itself as the rightful heir to the glory of ancient civilisation, reference to both Greek and Roman traditions and style became a customary part of National Socialist ideology.
3. The shoes that Jesse Owens wore whilst winning his four gold medals were made by Adi Dassler
In 1936, the Bavarian shoemaker Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler successfully managed to convince not only German athletes to wear his handcrafted leather track shoes, but also American athlete Jesse Owens. That Owens went on to win 4 gold medal in the Games wearing Adi Dassler’s shoes served to catapult his humble athletic shoe business onto the world stage – a company that would later bear his name and come to be known as Adidas.
4. Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, one year earlier he set three world records – in the space of 45 minutes
As remarkable as Jesse Owen’s achievement at the 1936 Summer Olympics was, winning four Gold medals in the 100m race, generic glucophage 200m race, long jump and 4 x 100m relay, the feat he accomplished one year earlier at the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbour, Michigan was without doubt unbelievably more impressive.
Despite an injured tailbone that prevented him from even bending over, Owens managed to set three world records – in the space of 45 minutes. He added nearly six inches to the world long jump record, then within the next half-hour set new records in the 220-yard dash and the 220-yard hurdles.
Returning to the United States from his success in Berlin, Owens started to struggle with money and even began racing against horses during the half-time shows of soccer matches. He would later comment: “People said it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse, but what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can’t eat four gold medals.”
5. The French team may have given the Nazi salute
More than 3,000 athletes from over 45 nations competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics. The question on many minds during the opening ceremony was how many of those nations would give the Nazi salute to Hitler as they passed the review stand. Leading the parade of nations in the opening ceremony was the Greek delegation, with the host nation Germany at the rear. The Austrian athletes gave the Hitler salute. The Turkish team gave the Nazi salute for the entire route around the stadium. The British and American athletes gave a military ‘eyes right’.
The French team received a standing ovation from the German crowd for seemingly giving the Hitler salute, although this was later denied by the delegation who stated they were giving the ‘olympic salute’.
The two are very close in style, with the Olympic salute differing only in that it is given with the arm raised and to pointing away from the body on the right side rather than straight ahead.
Regardless of the confusion the ‘olympic salute’ has been excluded from ceremonies since, not as a matter of order but as the following Olympic Games was held in London in 1948 and by that time the straight arm form of salute had understandably fallen out of fashion.