This is not a story about Jesse Owens, although it is about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. These Olympics were designed as propaganda for the Nazi Regime and Hitler’s warped idea of Aryan superiority, and films, books, and documentaries have been created that detail all of that effort to promote the New Germany. In fact, German athletes won almost twice as many medals (101) as the second place nation, the United States (57). Between that propaganda emphasis and the story of the great athletic feats of Owens, other interesting facts about those Olympics often get overlooked.
For example, were you aware that the Berlin Olympics were the first to be televised? If you’ve seen the film Contact, you are probably aware of this. The Germans had over 70 hours of grainy coverage of the games broadcast into several viewing rooms around Berlin that allowed tens of thousands of people to see some of the sporting events as they happened.
Also, a pair of brothers who made sports clothing, Rudi & Adi Dassler made their marks on the sports world by having several of the important athletes in these games wear their specially made athletic shoes. Owens won his medals in the Dassler brothers’ shoes. The publicity generated by the success of his shoes propelled the Dasslers’ company into international fame. Later, creative and personal differences made the Dassler brothers part ways and set up rival companies. Perhaps somewhere in your closet or maybe on your person, you have Adi’s brand, Adidas, or Rudy’s brand, Puma
We can’t imagine the Olympics without the famous torch being carried into the stadium. For many, the flame represents the athletic spirit and the unity of the athletes on the world’s stage. The torch for the Olympics is lit on Greece’s Mount Olympus and then carried across borders and nations to light the flame at the Olympic stadium. That first happened at the Berlin Olympics as the Germans used 3,000 runners to take the torch from Greece to Germany. The flame was lit by magnifying the sun’s rays on Mount Olympus. We don’t realize it, but the fire/flame motif was important to the Nazis, and their desire to use that imagery is why we still have the torch relay today.
At that time, the nation that hosted the summer Olympics also played host to the winter games. Thus, the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen saw the world’s best amateur winter athletes descend on it earlier in 1936, in February. For the German organizers, the winter games were seen as sort of a dress rehearsal for the real showcase of the summer games to be held later that year. The German winter games were the first to showcase Alpine Skiing. After the ’36 games, the same nation would no longer host both summer and winter games.
While Owens got the (deserved) accolades for his performance in the games, some of the other almost 4,000 athletes were overshadowed by his amazing athletic feats. For example, A black American named Mack Robinson won a silver medal by breaking the men’s Olympic record for the 200m dash–but he still finished 0.04 seconds behind…Jesse Owens. You might know Mack’s younger brother, a decent baseball player named Jackie.
The man who won the bronze medal in the long jump (Owens won gold, German Lutz Long grabbed silver) was the Japanese athlete Naoto Tajima. Tajima, it is often forgotten, won the gold in the triple jump by setting a world record that stood over 15 years. (Tajima’s the man at the front of the podium in the photo, above.) Finally, these Olympics saw the youngest ever gold medalist as American Marjorie Gestring won her championship in the 3-meter springboard diving event at the age of 13.