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The Nazi Olympics

The 11th Olympic Games, Berlin, 1936

The 1936 Olympic Games was the most controversial of the Modern Olympic Games. This is the only way to describe the Games of 1936 in Berlin. In Germany the dictator Adolf Hitler was at the height of his power.

At one stage there was a strong movement that the games should be moved away from Berlin. Nevertheless this was the Games that will always be remembered for the prodigious performances of Jesse Owens.

He won four gold medals - in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump and the 4 x 100 meters relay.

There is an Olympic myth about his performances. The story is told that Adolf Hitler refused to shake his hand when Owens won the 100 meters. According to this myth Hitler refused to shake his hand because Owens was black.

The truth is that Hitler invited the winners on the first day of the athletics to his lodge. The International Olympic Committee requested that he should stop this. The problem was that at the Germans were extremely punctual in their presentation. By inviting the winners to his lodge the programme ran behind time.

The Games was brilliantly organised and several new inventions were introduced. At the Games a torch relay from Olympia in Greece, to Berlin was organised to promote the Games. This was the first Olympic torch run. It has since become part and parcel of every subsequent Games.

For South Africa the Games was a disaster. The country won only one medal - a silver medal in boxing. For the first time since 1924 there was also no woman in the South African team.

For all the wrong reasons the best known member of the South African team was the boxer Robey Leibrandt. At the end of the Games Leibrandt joined the German army as a paratrooper.

During World War II he returned to South Africa to assassinate the South African Prime Minister, General J C Smuts, and to overthrow the government.