1936 Summer Olympics: 10 Things You May Not Know

1936 Summer Olympics

Cover Photo: Runners carrying the Olympic Flame


On August 1st, 1936, Adolf Hitler made his only public statement of the Berlin Olympics at its opening ceremony. As more than 5,000 athletes from 51 countries marched into a stadium packed with 100,000 onlookers, the German politician and leader of the Nazi Party announced, “I proclaim the Games of Berlin, celebrating the eleventh Olympiad of the modern era, to be open.” Prior to the remarks, three anthems blared through the loudspeakers before the dictator spoke into the microphone, the German national anthem, “Deutschland Uber Alles,” the Nazi anthem, “Horst Wessel Lied,” as well as salutes of “Sieg Heil.” As athletes representing their countries funneled into the stadium, some countries including Austria and France, gave the Nazi salute as they passed by the Führer. There were certainly countries who felt uneasy about the games being hosted in Berlin. Five years prior, in 1931 when Germany won the bid for the summer games, the Nazi party was not yet in power. This changed in 1933, however, and while countries including the United States, Great Britain, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia threatened to boycott the event because of increasing racial tensions emanating from Germany, the countries would eventually end up attending. While anti-Semitic signage and Nazi propaganda were removed during the event, there was no hiding the sentiment that was almost tangible in the country at the time. Ultimately, this was rebuked by the United States’ decision to send 18 African Americans to the games. This group ended up winning 14 of 56 U.S. medals, including four gold medals for track and field phenom Jesse Owens. Here are 10 Things You May Not Know About the Berlin Olympics.






Two Japanese pole vaulters who tied for second place refused to participate in a tie-breaker

Shuhei Nishida (front) and Sueo Oe after the pole vault at the Berlin Olympics

1936 Summer Olympics: Shuhei Nishida (front) and Sueo Oe after the pole vault at the Berlin Olympics (Getty)

During the 1936 Berlin Olympics, two Japanese pole vaulters who tied for second place refused to participate in a tie-breaker. Upon returning to Japan, they cut their medals in half and fused them to one another so each athlete ended up with a half-silver, half-bronze medal.

The Nazis ridiculed the US for relying on “non-human black auxiliaries.”

1936 Summer Olympics

1936 Summer Olympics: Owens salutes the American flag after winning the long jump at the 1936 Summer OlympicsNaoto Tajima, Owens, Lutz Long.

During the 1936 Berlin Olympic games, the Nazis ridiculed the US for relying on “non-human black auxiliaries.” American black athlete Jesse Owens went on to win 4 gold medals and beat a German at Long Jump in front of Hitler. Four years after Owens’ death, a street in Berlin was renamed after him.






German long jumper “Luz” Long gave Jesse Owens advice

1936 Summer Olympics

1936 Summer Olympics: Luz Long and Jesse Owens. Credit: Letters of Note

German long jumper “Luz” Long gave Jesse Owens advice allowing him to win gold at 1936 Berlin Olympics. Long won silver. During the war, Long asked Jesse to tell his son “what times were like when we were not at war… how things can be between men on this earth”, before being killed in 1943.

The idea of having the Olympic torch run from ancient Olympia to the host country was invented by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin Summer Games.

1936 Summer Olympics

1936 Summer Olympics: Runners carrying the Olympic Flame

The 1936 Olympic games were the first time the torch had been carried as part of a relay, starting in Olympia Greece and handled by more than 3,000 runners over its 12-day path to Berlin. The torch, incidentally, was made by German steel company Krupp, which also made Nazi weapons.






The Olympic Rings were mistakingly thought to be an ancient Greek symbol

Olympic Logo

The Olympic flag flying in VictoriaBritish Columbia, Canada, in recognition of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver

The Olympic Rings (actually designed in 1912) were mistakingly thought to be an ancient Greek symbol after researchers in the 1950s found a stone with the symbol carved on it in Delphi. The stone turned out to be a leftover from a ceremony held there for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Mack Robinson, brother of Jackie Robinson, medaled in the 1936 Olympic Games

Mack Robinson

Credit: Pasadena Now, “New Film Tells Story of Mack Robinson and Other Black Olympians in 1936 Nazi Olympic Games”

Mack Robinson, brother of Jackie Robinson, medaled in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Upon returning home to California, the only work he could find as an African American was sweeping streets, which he did while wearing his Olympic ‘USA’ sweatshirt.






Hitler sent Owens a Gift

1936 Summer Olympics

1936 Summer Olympics: Jesse Owens (left), Ralph Metcalfe (second left), Foy Draper (second right) and Frank Wykoff (right), the USA 4×100 meters Relay Team at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The USA won the gold medal in this event

After Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals in the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin, Adolf Hitler sent Owens a commemorative inscribed cabinet photograph of himself. Honors were not bestowed upon Jesse Owens by either President Franklin D. Roosevelt or his successor Harry S. Truman during their terms.

25,000 Pigeons Had an Accident

1936 Summer Olympics

1936 Summer Olympics: Athletics at the 1936 Summer Olympics on a German stamp

During the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, 25,000 pigeons were released during the opening ceremony. When a cannon was fired, the pigeons begun to poop on the spectators watching the ceremony below.






The US men’s basketball team beat Canada 19-8 to win the gold medal

1936 Summer Olympics

Berlin Olympics player, Frank Lubin, during EuroBasket 1939

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the US men’s basketball team beat Canada 19-8 to win the gold medal. The game was held outdoors on a dirt court in the pouring rain. The conditions prevented dribbling, which is why the score was so low.

Adidas, a German company, gave Jesse Owens free shoes to run in at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

1936 Summer Olympics

1936 Summer Olympics: Photo of US Olympic team sprinters (from left) Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe and Frank Wykoff on the deck of the S.S. Manhattan before they sailed for Germany to compete in the 1936 Olympics. They’re shown doing a light warm-up on the deck.

According to Vintage News, “Adolf “Adi” Dassler founded the iconic sports company Adidas in 1924. In 1936 he wanted to use the Summer Olympics to advertise his sports company, and wanted to provide athletes from all over the world with his equipment. Dassler and his friend, Jo Waitzer, the coach of the German team, decided that they would offer their specially designed running footwear to as many contestants as possible, including Jesse Owens.” Given the racial sentiment in Germany at the time of the Olympics, Dassler knew there could potentially be pushback, but he decided to move forward with it anyway.


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