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Columnist: The 1932 Olympics — a precursor to the recognition of a madman

It is without a doubt that the Summer Olympics of 1932 held in Los Angeles, California, were a major fiasco.

It was the worst time for any country to host such activities. The entire world at the time was consumed and at a standstill because of the concomitant affects of the Great Depression, which made the expense countries had to pay for athletes to travel to California seem nearly as insurmountable as the distance.

What was disturbing for Olympic officials and the city of Los Angeles is that six months before the games were to begin not one country had expressed any intentions of attending the activities.

City and Olympic officials were at a loss about what to do when it was also discovered that the Memorial Coliseum, which had expanded to over 105,000 seats, had sold very few spectator tickets. It was only after Hollywood stepped in to allow movie stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford to entertain the crowd that ticket sales picked up.

Countries learned from the Los Angeles fiasco that hosting the Olympics could be risky business.

The 1936 Olympics were also mired in controversy. Germany was chosen. The leader of the country, Adolf Hitler, had taken Germany over by force. He promised the middle-class more jobs and created mass hysteria that tied the economic depression to a great extent on “international jewry.”

It was actually believed by some that Olympic officials had been bribed into allowing Germany to host the Olympics. The question by many was why the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would give credence to a country that had already established itself as being anti-Semitic.

In protest to the Olympics being held in Germany, three Austrian women of Jewish ancestry refused to participate in the swimming competitions because of the country’s anti-Semitism. This did not lessen the IOC’s resolve and commitment to Germany.

Although it is known that Hitler had some anxieties related to some athletes performing better than those from his so-called Aryan master race, he became convinced that the Olympics created great public relations opportunities for his military regime, where he was considered as God.

Months before the Olympics were scheduled to begin, however, Hitler shocked some associated with the IOC when he demanded that blacks not be allowed to participate in the games. He actually reasoned that blacks had the physical and anatomical features of animals, which would give them advantages over other athletes.

He reasoned that the bone structures in the feet of blacks were like gazelles and deer that would allow them to run faster than normal humans. One of the leaders of the IOC personally met with Hitler to resolve the matter.

All matters being resolved, leaders of the SS regime began the process of ensuring that the Olympic activities would go off without any major problems. Prostitution, which had been outlawed, was reconstituted.

The Gestapo imported up to 7,000 prostitutes to provide services for those visitors who would possibly be interested in procuring such services. Gypsies, who would be the equivalent of our homeless here in the United States, were relocated or killed.

When the Olympics officially began, the world was treated to pomp and circumstance orchestrated by Germany never seen before or imagined, used to inflame the passions of a nation to believe in a mad man. The hallmark of this pageantry was the swastika — a symbol that even today is a reminder that one person can, in fact, become the catalyst for unimaginable evil.

By the way, even though Germany did quite well at the 1936 games, a black athlete by the name of Jesse Owens — who did not have the bone structure of a deer or gazelle — became the most successful athlete of the games. Owens became the first American to win four track and field gold medals at a single Olympics, a record that stood unbroken for 48 years (https://www.olympic.org/videos/jesse-owens-s-inspiring-history).

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By Glenn Dowell

Contributing columnist

Dr. Glenn Dowell, a LaGrange native, is an author and columnist who lives in Georgia. He has been an instructor at Texas Southern University, guest speaker on major college campuses and appeared on TV programs including ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show.’ He may be reached at gdowell@live.com.