Berlin 1936: Jesse Owens and the Aryan Race | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 30.07.2008
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Berlin 1936: Jesse Owens and the Aryan Race

The 1936 Games in Berlin should have been a victory for the Master Race but the wheels of the Nazi propaganda machine wobbled severely and almost came off after African-American athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals.

Outstanding track and field athlete Jesse Owens poses in his Ohio State University jersey, April 26, 1935.

Jesse Owens claimed not one but four victories over the athletes of the Aryan Race

The 1936 Summer Games in Berlin was a heavily politicized event; coming three years after the National Socialist German Workers Party came to power.

The bid to host the games was awarded to Germany before the Nazis came into government and despite opposition from countries who wanted to boycott the games over the ruling party's anti-Semitic policies and internal concerns from Adolf Hitler himself, the Games went ahead.

Under the influence of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, the Games were designed to promote the party's ideology of the superiority of the Aryan Race. This propaganda was given a huge boost when the International Olympic Committee commissioned director Leni Riefenstahl to film the Games.

Riefenstahl, Hitler's favorite film-maker, not only created the cinematic standards by which all sport events would be judged for many years to come but the German director also managed to create images synonymous with the Nazi Party's ideals of physical perfection.

Only the living and breathing examples of this ideal were allowed to compete for Germany and the fact that the host nation won the most medals at the Games seemed to convince Hitler further of his ideological belief in racial supremacy.

However, away from the use of the Games as a political platform for the Nazis and the sanitizing of Germany's strict racial, religious and sexual oppression in the surrounding Berlin environs for the duration of the events, the 1936 Olympics belonged to one -- most unlikely -- hero.

"Inferior" athlete captures four golds and German hearts

Jesse Owens running during 1936 Olympics in Berlin

Owens won three sprint golds and one in the long jump

Despite the Nazi depiction of ethnic Africans as "inferior", African-American athlete Jesse Owens stunned the 110,000-strong crowd in the Olympic Stadium by winning four gold medals: one each in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the, and as part of the 4x100 meter relay team.

Much was made of the fact that Adolf Hitler refused to shake Owens' hand after his successes but records show that the Nazi leader had agreed before the Games to only shake the hands of the German victors.

After being told by the IOC that he must either shake everyone's hand or no-one's, Hitler opted for the latter, leaving the stadium after the first day and not returning for any of the subsequent medal ceremonies.

Owens himself later recounted that Hitler had acknowledged him with a raised hand as he had passed the Nazi leader on a lap of honor.

The American was lauded as a hero of the Games by the sell-out crowd and was extremely popular with ordinary Germans, many of whom sought him out for autographs.

The 1936 summer Olympics had the largest representation of nations participating than any other previous Olympics.

While no nations agreed to a boycott in opposition to the policies of Nazi Germany, individual athletes such as the Jewish-Americans Milton Green and Norman Canners refused to take part in the Berlin Games.

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