Since our beginnings, Iconic Photos has covered some of the most memorable photos from different Olympiads throughout history. As the world’s greatest athletes gather in London for its 30th incarnation, we look back at nine of them. The photos are captioned clockwise from top left in the poll, and the links are below.
Hitler used the 1936 Olympics as a propaganda tool, inadvertently creating the modern Games, complete with torch relays, grand stadiums, publicity films and screens set up outside to transmit the Games. What the Nazis couldn’t stage-manage were the outcomes, and wonderful story of Jesse Owens smashing Hitler’s theories of racial superiority on the 100m sprint is an oft repeated story. (Enthusiastic crowd reaction on this clip suggests that the German people are less Aryan-obsessed than Hitler.Although his coach warned Owens about a potentially hostile crowd, there were German cheers of “Yesseh Oh-vens” or just “Oh-vens” from the crowd. Owens was a true celebrity in Berlin, mobbed by autograph seekers.)
It is oft mentioned that the Nazi leader refused to present Jesse Owens with his medal, shake his hand and subsequently stormed out of the stadium. However, Hitler was not even in the stadium when Jesse Owens was securing his medals, and his absence was more to do with his row with the Olympic organizers than with Owens . Hitler had congratulated German athletes on the first day, only to be informed by the IOC officials that he should congratulate all athletes or none, in order to show neutrality as the presiding head of state. In a characteristic fit of petulance, Hitler refused congratulate anyone after the first day of the competition, not even the German athletes. (Hitler did snub a black American athlete on the first day; just before Cornelius Johnson was to be decorated, Hitler left the stadium.)
Jesse Owens tried his best to correct the myth-making that went on around him: he admitted that he received the greatest ovations of his career at Berlin. he recalled: “When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing [Hitler] …. Hitler didn’t snub me—it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram”. Such was an atmosphere of segregation back in the U.S. that Owens was never invited to the White House to be congratulated. When there was a ticker-tape parade in New York in his honour, he had to attend the reception at the Waldorf-Astoria using the back elevator set aside for blacks. (Even in Berlin, he was allowed to travel and stay together with whites).