The 1936 Berlin Olympics

Some of my favorite stories have come from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which were held in August of 1936. Reich Führer Adolph Hitler saw the major international event as an opportunity to promote his government and ideals of racial supremacy and antisemitism. Jewish athletes were barred from taking part.

Jesse Owens

Although Germany won the most medals, overall, with the US coming in second. Jesse Owens of the US won four gold medals, becoming the most successful athlete of the event, effectively rejecting Hitler’s notion of racial supremacy.

The year before, Dexter band marched in the the 1935 Drake Relays parade in Des Moines. Doris Wilson, playing a borrowed trumpet, asked who was the man riding in the parade and waving to the crowd. It was Jesse Owens, famous as a runner even before the Olympics the next year.


Two of my favorite books are about athletes who also competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Louis Zamperini

Runner Louis Zamperini came in 8th in his race, but Adolph Hitler insisted on meeting him. Zamperini, who been a troubled youth, found his purpose in running.

After WWII broke out, joined the Army Air Force. His B-17 went down in the Pacific, where he spent 47 days adrift, then 2 1/2 years in three Japanese POW camps.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand is an incredible true story!

The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown is another favorite story from those historic days.

I especially enjoyed the backgrounds of the crew, many of whom were dirt poor because of the Great Depression. The book combines the craftsmanship of boat building, superb coaching, laws of physics, psychology, and the mystery of hope. Rewarding and refreshing.


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