Nazi Germany hosted the 1936 Olympics. On August 1 of that year, Adolph Hitler welcomed the world to Berlin for two weeks of fun, and nothing but fun, with just a little bit of political propaganda thrown in.
In 2011 on the 75th anniversary of the Berlin Olympics, Frank Deford wrote in Sports Illustrated:
While, of course, nothing can approach the horror of the terrorist murders at the 1972 Olympics, it is now the 75th anniversary of what were surely the most fascinating and historically influential Games—- those in Berlin that began this very week in the summer of ’36. It was novelty and glory and evil all in athletic conjunction as never before or since.
1931 Germany is awarded the games. 1933 the Nazis take over, and calls for Olympicb boycott begin
The games were awarded to Berlin by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1931, two years before Hitler came to power. In the German federal election in 1933, the Nazis won a plurality of the seats in the Reichstag. A few weeks after the election the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act which effectively gave Hitler full dictatorial power.
Almost immediately the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was besieged with protests calling for the relocation of the 1936 games. Responding to the uproar, IOC President Comte Henri de Baillet-Latour wrote to Avery Brundage, President of the American Olympic Committee (AOC), “I am not personally fond of jews and of the jewish influence, but I will not have them molested in no way [sic] whatsoever.” He added, “I know that they [the Jews] shout before there is reason to do so.”
In 1934 Brundage went to Germany to see for himself how the Germans were treating the Jews. While he was there, he convinced himself that the AOC should ignore the calls for a a boycott. After returning to the U.S. Brundage wrote in an AOC’s pamphlet “Fair Play for American Athletes” that American athletes should not become involved in “the present Jew-Nazi altercation.”
Brundage has his way. There is no boycott
And so the U.S. and the rest of the world all accepted the Nazis’ invitation to compete at their Olympics, and that meant that the Germans had to do some “housekeeping”. In June of 1936 the Manchester Guardian reported that “the more conspicuous and easily removable anti-Semitic displays posters and signs have been removed so that visitors to the Olympic Games and the competitors shall not get an unfavorable impression of Germany.”
But the U.S. Team does not get a warm welcome
Even though the U.S. team dignified the Nazi Olympics by showing up, they did manage to stir up a mild controversy as they entered the stadium for the Parade of Nations. The night before, the Americans changed their plans so that they would not appear to be giving even a modified Nazi salute. They had originally intended to extend their arms with hats in hands, but instead they decided to just remove their hats, place them over their hearts and look eyes right, at their host, Adolph Hitler. The AP’s Alan Gould reported that the Americans “were welcomed with a noisy whistling reception which some European observers suggested was tantamount to the European “raspberries.”
Carter Announces Olympic Boycott Threat January 20, 1980
U.S. Olympic Boxing Team Wins 5 Gold Medals July 31,1976
Carl Lewis Wins 9th and Last Gold July 29, 1996
Mathias Repeats in Olympic Decathlon July 26, 1952
Edwin Moses Wins First Olympic Gold July 25, 1976
Perfect 10 for Nadia – July, 18 1976
Flo Jo Sets 100-Meter Record July 16, 1988
This one still stinks – The Olympics at its worst. The U.S. Olympic basketball streak ended, after being unbeaten since the sport was introduced at the 1936 games. Going into this game the U.S. team’s record was 62-0.
In fairness to the Soviet team that allegedly won, it wasn’t their fault that they had played superbly and were within a point of the Americans when the game should have ended. And it wasn’t their fault the Americans played poorly and allowed the Russians to stay in the game. And they didn’t create the chaos that ensued as the game ended, all three times.
Then again, they missed an opportunity to go down in history as among the greatest sportsmen of all time, if they would have exchanged their tainted gold medals for what would have been the most honored and celebrated silver medal accomplishment in the history of the Olympics.
But they didn’t.
Coca Cola Commercial Promotes the 1980 Olympics (The One We Boycotted)
Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, Spawns Olympic Boycott Talk.
Russians start invasion Christmas Day, 1979
The Soviet Union began its invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Day, 1979. On New Years Day, 1980, with already more than 10,000 Russian troops engaged in heavy fighting near Kabul (eventually the Soviets would have more than 100,000 personnel deployed in Afghanistan), the New York Times reported that “West Germany’s representative at an emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization raised the question of whether the Western Allies might want to withdraw their participation in the Moscow Olympic Games this summer as a result of the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan, a NATO official said.”
Or did he say that?
The next day, The Washington Post disclosed that “a West German government spokesman denied newspaper reports that its NATO ambassador was the one who had suggested the boycott. In the same article the Post reported that Lord Killanin, head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), “vowed to resist any political interference with the Olympics”.
On January 3, the New York Times reported that France did not support the idea of an Olympic boycott.
President Jimmy Carter in a nationally televised speech on January 4, outlined his plans for forcing the Soviets out of Afghanistan, he hinted at the possibility of an Olympic boycott.
Saudi Arabia became the first nation to officially withdraw from the Moscow Olympics. On January 6 the LA Times reported that a spokesman for the Saudi Royal made the announcement, citing Soviet aggression against the “friendly and brotherly Moslem nation of Afghanistan.
Day by day, more and more editorials were written, interviews were given, and opinions taken on the not yet officially proposed Olympic boycott. For the most part, politicians favored the boycott while athletes and Olympic officials opposed it.
Carter Goes on Meet The Press and Makes Olympic Boycott Threat Official
Finally, on Sunday Morning, January 20, Carter appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press. Bill Monroe led off the interview by asking Carter, “Mr. President, assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?”
To which Carter replied, “No, neither I nor the American people would favor the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops, within a month, from Afghanistan, that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to an alternate site, or multiple sites, or postponed, or cancelled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, within a month, I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics.
World Watches Nancy Kerrigan Attack in Disbelief
On January 6, 1994, Nancy Kerrigan had just completed a practice session in Cobo Hall in Detroit. She was preparing for the U.S. Women’s National Figure Skating Championship which was going to be held there, the following day.
As she was leaving the ice, an unidentified man struck her on the back of the knee with a club like object, causing her to fall to the floor, writhing in pain. As paramedics were getting her ready to be taken away in the ambulance, Kerrigan gave out her iconic wail, Why? Why? Why?
Kerrigan’s arch rival, Tonya Harding, won the competition (without Kerrigan of course), earning a position on the Olympic team. Even though she had not been able to compete in Detroit, on January 8, Kerrigan was given the second position on the team
On January 9, while the world was pondering who could have done such a thing, Jere Longman wrote in the New York Times,
This was only Act 1 of a great unfolding soap opera. Harding the talented but troubled champion, versus Kerrigan, America’s darling, the victim of a chilling assault. Muscular power versus swan-like grace. Harding has more technical skills, Kerrigan has elegance and the sympathy of an entire country. Everything about them is being compared, their hair, their costumes, their figures, their make up. One usually has to see a John Waters Movie to witness this sort of high camp.
Five Days Later the Soap Opera Takes a Wild Turn
The high camp soap opera took a bizarre turn on January 11, when The Oregonian reported that the FBI was investigating an allegation that the attack had been orchestrated by Harding’s body guard Shawn Eckardt, her ex-husband, Jeff Gilhooly; and a friend, Shane Stant.
The following day Eckardt confessed and implicated Gilhooly, Stant, and another friend, Derrick Smith. He also named Harding as a co-conspirator.
Tonya Insists She’s Innocent
On January 18, Harding met with investigators for ten hours. Her story, which she repeated at a nationally televised press conference on January 27, was that she only learned that her ex-husband and body guard were involved, after the attack. At the press conference Harding said. “Within the next few days, I learned that some persons that were close to me may have been involved. My first reaction was one of disbelief, and the disbelief was followed by shock and fear. Although my lawyers tell me that my failure to immediately report this information is not a crime, I know I’ve let you down, but I have also let myself down. I have devoted my entire life to one objective, winning an Olympic gold metal for my country.”
Both Girls Go to the Olympics
On February 5, the U.S. Figure Skating Association met, in order to decide what to do about Harding. Five days later Harding sued the U.S. Olympic committee in an effort to stop them from conducting a hearing to determine whether or not she should be allowed to compete in the Olympics. She dropped the suit two later after the committee agreed to cancel the hearing. Tonya Harding was given the green light to go to the Olympics in Lillehammer.
She placed 8th in the competition, but in typical Tanyaesque fashion, her Olympic performance will long be remembered almost entirely for the drama involving the laces on her skates. She was almost disqualified for not appearing on the ice in a timely fashion, and her skating was interrupted for an “equipment mishap”. The Judges generously allowed her to return to the ice and she managed to skate well enough to rank among the top third of all the competitors.
Meanwhile, Kerrigan recovered and was also able compete at the Olympics. On February 25 she won the silver medal (in a close and controversial competition with gold medal winner Oksana Baiul). Sadly Kerrigan is known much more today for her anguished cries after the brutal attack, than for winning Olympic bronze (Albertville, 1992) and silver medals.
The Melodrama did not quite end at the Olympics in Lillehammer. On March 16 in Portland, Harding plead guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution. She was put on probation for three years and was fined $160,000. She also agreed to resign from the U.S. Figure Skating Association