Letter to the Editor: Remembering Heroes of Past Olympic Games


Since the modern version of the Olympic Games began in Athens, Greece, in 1896, the Games have been held at regular four-year intervals, the only exceptions being during the two world wars.

Until COVID-19.

This menace of the contemporary age forced a postponement of the Tokyo Games for an entire year, and even then wreaked havoc with its organization and presentation.

For the most part, events were held without live audiences of any size, and athletes, in turn, were confined to a very small section of the city, unable to interact with their admirers.

Still, there were noteworthy achievements, well worthy of the Olympic ideal of “Citius, Altius, Fortius.” 

The American team led in each of the three medal categories, and at 113 its total of gold, silver and bronze victories greatly surpassed second-place China at 88.

Unfortunately, however, many nations seem not to fully participate in the Games. India, with a population very near to that of China, won only seven medals. Australia, in contrast, with a populace equivalent in size to only two percent of the Indian total, won 46.

But while the Tokyo Games may rank as the most bizarre in history, they are far from themost infamous. This dubious distinction must be shared by the Berlin Games of 1936 and the Munich Games of 1972, the only times the Summer Olympics were held in Germany.

The great star in Berlin, of course, was the Black American track and field marvel Jesse Owens, one of the most remarkable athletes of his time. Owens had set three world records and tied for a fourth within a space of only 45 minutes in 1935, and in Berlin he earned four gold medals. 

This was much to the chagrin of the fanatically racist Nazi dictatorship.

Nevertheless, the Nazis used the games to burnish the Nazi image, an effort that unfortunately met with some success. Anti-Semitic rhetoric and street signage mandating “Juden Verboten” and “Kauft nicht bei Juden” vanished from Berlin during the Games. This entirely superficial and temporary alteration conned many and seemed to legitimize the policy of appeasement that led to the disastrous Munich Agreement in 1938.

Perhaps it is poetic justice, then, that the Munich Games of 1972 would be such a searing tragedy. In an act of appalling cruelty and senselessness, the Black September terrorist gang kidnapped 11 Israeli athletes at these Games — and shot them all to death. These young individuals were guilty only of athletic brilliance, and their deaths permanently stained whatever value the Palestinian cause may have.

The standout at the Munich Olympics was the American swimming sensation Mark Spitz, whose athletic achievements were unmatched in their time and only recently surpassed by Michael Phelps.

A Jewish American, Spitz was whisked out of Munich immediately after the massacre of the Israelis, reportedly by a detachment of U.S. Marines.

Amid so much contemporary division and turmoil, this nation should remember that at both Summer Olympics held in Germany, the heroes were Jesse Owens and Mark Spitz, non-Aryan but all-American.


Joseph Tipler