Maps & Charts


Glossary: 1936 Olympic Games

The 1936 Olympics were held in a tense, politically charged atmosphere. The Nazi Party had risen to power in 1933, two years after Berlin was awarded the Games, and its racist policies led to international debate about a boycott of the Games. An alternative competition, to be called the "People's Olympics," was scheduled for Barcelona, Spain, but this plan was abandoned with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. In the end, 49 nations chose to attend the Olympic Games in Berlin.

Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party viewed the Olympics as an opportunity to advance Nazi ideology. Pamphlets and speeches about the natural superiority of the Aryan race were commonplace. The Reich Sports Field, a newly constructed sports complex that covered 325 acres (131 hectares) and included four stadiums, was draped in Nazi banners and symbols.

The Berlin Olympics featured advancements in media coverage. It was the first Olympic competition to use telex transmissions of results, and zeppelins were used to quickly transport newsreel footage to other European cities. The Games were televised for the first time, transmitted by closed circuit to specially equipped theatres in Berlin. The 1936 Games also introduced the torch relay.

A runner carrying the Olympic torch into the Reich Sports Field to light the Olympic flame during the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (click on the image to enlarge).

Some 4,000 athletes competed in 148 events. The track-and-field competition starred American Jesse Owens, who won three individual gold medals and a fourth in the 4 100-metre relay. Owens and his teammates won 12 men's track-and-field gold medals; the success of Owens and the other African American athletes, referred to as "black auxiliaries" by the Nazi press, was considered a particular blow to Hitler's Aryan ideals.

However, the Germans did win the most medals overall, dominating the gymnastics, rowing, and equestrian events. Hendrika ("Rie") Mastenbroek of The Netherlands won three gold medals and a silver in the swimming competition. Basketball, an Olympic event for the first time in 1936, was won by the U.S. team. Canoeing also debuted as an Olympic sport.

The 1940 and 1944 Games, scheduled for Helsinki (originally slated for Tokyo) and London, respectively, were canceled because of World War II.


"Olympic Games" Encyclopædia Britannica Online.