May 24, 2013
The infamous Hitler Olympics
LONDON — While the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich will for ever be remembered for the murder of Jewish athletes by Palestinians which brought fear of terrorism to all future Olympic Games — including the Games which just started here — the first Olympics awarded to Germany, held in Berlin in 1936, were no less notorious for being used as propaganda for the Nazis recently established in that country. They were dubbed the Hitler Games.
Germany was awarded the Games for the first time in 1916, but World War I stopped them being held. Then the International Olympic Committee chose Germany in 1931 to hold the 1936 Games which was a full two years before Adolf Hitler came to power. But then world-wide protests were made to boycott the Games, the main reasons being Germany's racial policies and that Jewish athletes were barred from qualifying for that country's Olympic team. It would have been the first of several later boycotts for political reasons. In Argentina there were also protests, but in the end boycotts did not materialize, except that curiously Spain was the only boycotting country, while in some other countries a number of athletes refused to join their Olympic teams.
Argentina had 51 participants and finished 16th of 49 countries in the medals table with two golds (for polo held for the last time and boxing), two silver and three bronze. One of the silver medals was won by Jeannette Campbell of the Belgrano Athletic Club who was the first Argentine-born woman ever to take part in the Olympic Games. She told me later that she knew nothing about politics and what was has happening in Germany, that she met Hermann Goering and found him very nice, that the team all gave the Nazi salute and rushed to see Hitler when he appeared at the Games. But it was a giant propaganda exercise by the Germans. Soldiers were everywhere to accompany athletes, while Hitler wanted to show off the superiority of the Arian race.
One man in particular spoilt Hitler's propaganda dream — Jesse Owens, a black man from the United States who won four athletic gold medals and became the darling of the Games. He would tell you later, however, that he had more liberty in Germany than in his own segregated country.
Strangely, however, there is also a story (which one finds hard to believe) that Hitler was so impressed with Dhyan Chand, a sergeant in the Indian army and captain of the brilliant Indian field hockey team, that he offered him the rank of field marshal in the German army. Chand, nick-named "The Wizard", who scored six goals in the 8-1 defeat of Germany in the final, refused the offer.
Hitler was a teetotaler and alcoholic drinks were banned for athletes, but the Italians and French protested so strongly about the lack of wine, while the Dutch and Belgians did likewise about the lack of beer, that these four countries were served their favourite alcoholic drinks with meals. The Germans , however, had to comply with Hitler's order an missed their beer.
The Olympic Village used for the 1936 Games, with murals of marching German soldiers and other propaganda items, was left in the Soviet zone after World War II and used as a torture centre by the KGB. Since the fall of Communism authorities wanted to put it to some other use after needed refurbishing, but Germans are reluctant to set foot on it because of its disturbed past. Hopefully, a happier future awaits the Olympic Village in London.
The 1936 Berlin Games, however, left us with another not so dark inheritance. In his book The Modern Olympics: A Struggle for Revival, historian David Young says the torch relay was invented by Karl Diem, a German who planned the cancelled 1916 Games and also the 1936 Games. Hitler was personally interested in this ritual which ever since has been an important part of the Olympics. The five Olympic rings were designed in 1913 to be used for the first time in the cancelled 1916 Games. They were also used in the 1920 Games in Antwerp, but only gained real importance as the symbol of the event in 1936, under Hitler's influence.
Returning to the present Games and the controversy over Oscar Pistorius which has not died down and perhaps never will as his participation in the current Olympic Games has opened the door for similar cases. He has been selected for South Africa to run in the 400 metres and the 4x400m relay, having won his case in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after the International Athletics Federation (IAAF) would not allow him to run in Olympic qualifying events.
Pistorius has prosthetics as legs (which he lost at the age four), like blades which have earned him the nickname "blade runner." Science and sport remain divided on the boundaries of handicapped athletes competing in either the open Olympics and the Paralympics. At the CAS case, it was claimed by IAAF officials that Pistorius' blades can increase his speed by 15-30%. That, in itself, would make it unfair for him to be allowed to run.
Pistorius has his supporters. They say able-bodied athletes do not want to compete with cripples because they are afraid of losing against them, that Pistorius deserves praise for his athletic efforts and lacks the advantages in life that able-bodied athletes have; that any athlete who thinks Pistorius has an unfair advantage "should saw his legs off".
But these arguments have nothing to do with sport. Pistorius, apart from that 15-30% speed advantage, is not going to suffer from torn leg muscles or stress fracture in the foot. He will not get the build-up of lactic acid in calves and a wall of pain that hits 400 metre runners toward the end. He can get faster toward the end of a race while others get slower. It is calculated he will use 25% less energy than a rival with legs at the same speed.
NO, he should not have been allowed to run. It is a dangerous precedent!