80 years ago, Owens stole Hitler’s Berlin show at the Olympics

Agence France-Presse
80 years ago, Owens stole Hitler’s Berlin show at the Olympics
Adolf Hitler hoped to showcase the Aryan race's superiority at the 1936 Berlin Games. That was until American sprinter Jesse Owens ruined those plans

BERLIN, Germany – Eighty years after Jesse Owens won 4 medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, his daughter says Germany’s Nazi leader Adolf Hitler refused to shake her father’s hand.

The controversial Berlin Olympics opened on August 1, 1936 to much fanfare with Reich’s Chancellor Hitler hoping to showcase the best of the Aryan race with the hosts planning to dominate the podium across the 19 different sports events.

Owens ruined Hitler’s plans as the black American sprinter won gold in the 100 meters, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump gold over 6 magical days at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

His achievements made a mockery of the Nazi ideology of Aryan supremacy and according to sporting folklore, Hitler refused to shake Owens hand, despite the Americans historic display.

Owens died of lung cancer, aged 66, in 1980, but his daughter, Marlene Owens Rankin, says as far as she is concerned, her father never shook Hitler’s hand.

Owens Rankin said her father always gave one answer when asked whether he was congratulated by Hitler in Berlin, 3 years before the start of World War II which ended with the Nazi leader’s suicide in the ruins of Berlin in May 1945.

“He always said ‘I didn’t go to the Berlin Olympics to shake Hitler’s hand’,” the 77-year-old daughter told magazine Sport Bild.

“‘I went there to run. And that’s exactly what I did.

“‘I’m here today and where Hitler is, I do not know’

“Because of that, I don’t think he shook his hand.”

Owens movie

Owens’ daughter first visited Berlin in 1984, when the road next to the iconic stadium was renamed Jesse Owens Allee in tribute to her father.

Jesse Owens crosses the finish line of the 100m event 1936 during Olympic Games in Berlin. File photo by AFP

In his autobiography, Owens said Hitler did nothing more than raise his hand in acknowledgement when the pair were in the same room during the Berlin games.

“That’s in my favorite book about him,” said Owens Rankin.

“I don’t know for sure if that happened, but my father was not the kind to make stories up.

“If he said that, then I think it’s what happened.”

‘Race’ the biographical sports drama based on Jesse Owens’ story, and directed by Stephen Hopkins, hit the screens in Germany on Thursday in time for the 80th anniversary of his achievements.

There is also an exhibition of rarely seen photographs from the 1936 games currently on show at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

The imposing arena, which was built for the 1936 games, held 100,000 for the opening ceremony with nearly 4,000 athletes from 49 nations taking part.

But there was no escaping the racist undertone of the 16-day spectacle in anti-semitic Germany, with only one Jew, Helene Mayer, allowed to compete for the German team while several countries boycotted the games.

But Owens’ legacy has echoed down the years in Berlin.

Sprint star Usain Bolt set the current 100m and 200m world records on the famous blue track, when the 2009 world athletics championships were held in Germany’s capital, and he refered directly to Owens.

Both sprinters were 22 when they made history in Berlin – 73 years apart.

“Jesse made history here, so I’m going to try to do the same,” Bolt said in Berlin in 2009 before winning the 100m, 200m and 4x100m world gold medals.

His times of 9.58secs for the 100m and 19.19m for the 200m have never been bettered. – Rappler.com

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