The Back Story Of The 1936 Winter Games
Alan is an alumnus of the Los Angeles/Bear Stearns (1997-99) Wexner Heritage Program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am a sportswriter. My specialty is the Olympics. The question I get asked the most goes like this: “Since the Olympics take place every four years, what do you do the rest of the time?”
I gently explain that for nearly 20 years now the Olympics have been taking place every two years, Summer and Winter, and that the movement has become a billion-dollar-a-year enterprise worldwide, and covering it is more than a full-time job.
My friends who know I went through the Wexner program typically have another question. How, they ask, does the Wexner experience intersect – like, in any way – with your work life?
The Wexner program taught me many lessons. Here are just some: There are stories everywhere in our world, and we tell each other stories because it’s through those stories that we find insight, and each of us yearns for insight and meaning. Also, there are connections everywhere, if we are just open enough, indeed receptive enough, to let them find us.
This past February, I was in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, up in the mountains not even 90 minutes south of Munich, to cover the 2011 alpine skiing world championships. I love covering alpine skiing. The racers can reach speeds of up to 80 miles per hour; understand they’re skiing on courses groomed so the surface is rock-hard ice, not fluffy snow.
The primary reason I had gone to Garmisch was to watch the American Lindsey Vonn. She had suffered a concussion a couple weeks before. She nonetheless skied the downhill and took silver. It was a controversial – but nonetheless fantastic – display of courage and skill.
At these events, there are two chances to talk to an athlete like Lindsey.
The first is in what’s called the “mixed zone.” All the athletes take off their skis and then tromp through a roped-off area where first camera crews and then pen-and-notebook types like me await. After that, the top three finishers go to a news conference.
We waited a long time for Lindsey in the mixed zone. Finally, the American press attaché said, she’s not coming through – see you at the news conference.
Back to the press tent we went.
At such moments, the only thing to do is go with the flow. Maybe destiny is calling. Perhaps there is a connection to be made. You never know.
Munich is one of three cities bidding this year for the right to stage the 2018 Winter Games; Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Annecy, France, are also in the race; the International Olympic Committee will pick the winner by secret ballot on July 6. Because of that 2018 race, a number of my friends from the Munich bid team were also in Garmisch – the locals call it GaPa—to watch the women’s downhill.
Come with me, one of them said inside the tent. Let’s go meet the GaPa mayor.
The mayor was elsewhere, at the VIP tent, along with the IOC member from Germany and others. If I went, I would have time alone with all these officials.
But I almost surely would miss Lindsey’s news conference.
My reporter friends quickly promised they would send me any good Lindsey quotes. Plus, the U.S. Ski Team would be putting out a release.
Off to the VIP tent we went.
The mayor, Thomas Schmid, and I hit it off. We talked and talked. Suddenly, he said, I have to leave. But here’s an address. Meet me there at 5 this afternoon.
Here, in a little house in the center of town, was — for the first time, 75 years after the event — an exhibit chronicling the history of the 1936 Garmisch Winter Games. The exhibit was called “the dark side of the medal.”
Because of Jesse Owens, the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin are well known. But the 1936 Winter Games have been virtually lost to memory.
On the walls was a stunning photo of a Nazi official delivering a stiff-armed salute at the Olympic medals stand. Another showed Hitler at the opening ceremony. Another depicted roadside markers — taken down before the Games and put back up right after — that declared, “Jews not welcome.”
I wrote a column about the exhibit. The piece got noticed. Now the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles is in talks to bring it to the United States, perhaps timed to open with the July, 2012, Summer Games in London.
As the leader of the Jewish community in Munich and Bavaria, Charlotte Knobloch, has put it, those 1936 Winter Games were a “most revolting show of propaganda … under whose guise the very first signs of the Shoah could already be detected.”
Everyone should know that story.