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Berlin 1936 - Overview

Jesse Owens proves Nazi race theory wrong

To the eternal chagrin of Adolf Hitler and his cronies, the 1936 Berlin Olympics demonstrated the nonsense of the Nazi theory of Aryan superiority when American Jesse Owens, the grandson of a slave, became the star of the show with four titles in track and field.

Since his rise to power in Germany in 1933, the dictator had viewed the Games as an extravagant propaganda opportunity.

The Nazis built venues of colossal proportions, with the 100,000-seat Olympic stadium in Berlin (which now houses football organization Hertha BSC) as well as a 20,000-seat stadium with a state of the art pool and a superb Olympic Village to show the world that Germany was back in busines after World War I and its fallout.

Nazi salute

The National Socialist party gave splendid receptions for the athletes and festooned the country with swastika flags flying side by side with Olympic flags in an attempt to garner support for the movement and convince the world of its peaceful intentions.

The United States had been close to boycotting the Games because of the anti-Semitical sentiments in Germany but eventually was convinced, as was the International Olympic Committee, due to Hitler's assurances.

In fact, the world still was unsure who Hitler was, but when he entered the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony, virtually every person in the 100,000-strong crowd raised his or her arm to him in the Nazi salute.

Television debut

Germany did show off its technological advancements by organizing a closed-circuit television facility connecting observation halls with a capacity of 160,000 spectators.

On the field, the German athletes excelled in numerous disciplines, with six gymnastics gold, six equestrian gold and five rowing gold, easily topping the table with 33 titles.

Owens to the rescue

However, when Owens beat German Lutz Long in the long jump, a furious Hitler, unable to stand of a black man beating a blue-eyed blond, quit the stadium in a huff, his lie of Aryan superiority exposed to the ridicule it deserved.

Owens also won the 100-meter and 200-meter runs and the 4x100 relay and built a friendship with Long, who died during the subsequent World War II.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

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