This is the seventh in a series of examinations of legends related to the Olympics and whether they are true or false.
OLYMPIC LEGEND: An Olympian missed out on a chance at a world record because the official lap counter was not paying attention to the race.
Finnish athlete Volmari Iso-Hollo was one of the greatest steeplechase racers of all time (in case you don’t know, steeplechase is the race where the runners have to leap over short fences during the race).
At the 1932 Olympics, Iso-Hollo was dominating the field on the way to the Gold Medal in the 3000 meter steeplechase. Coming in to the home stretch, Iso-Hollo looked like he was going to have a world record. He ran and he ran and he ran and…no finishing bell rang, so the race was not over yet! So he ran and ran some more.
Finally, the bell rang and the race was over – but Iso-Hollo had run an extra 460 meters!
You see, the officials did not know how many laps had been run because the guy whose job it was to track the amount of laps had been distracted by the decathlon pole vault going on in a nearby field and had LOST COUNT OF THE LAPS RUN SO FAR!!!
So Iso-Hollo was robbed of a world record.
Luckily, four years later, at the 1936 Olympics, Iso-Hollo once again won the Gold Medal, and this time, the laps counter paid attention and Iso-Hollo had a new world record in the event!
OLYMPIC LEGEND: Adolf Hitler snubbed Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics.
STATUS: False Enough for a False.
One of the great Olympic stories is that of African-American Jesse Owens of the United States of America showing up Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Summer Olympics, an Olympics designed to show off the “superiority” of the Aryan Race.
And certainly, in a fashion, it did just that – Owens’ amazing performance resulted in a staggering FOUR Gold Medals while setting multiple new world records.
So Owens certainly WAS an effective tool against Nazi propaganda revolving around the inferiority of black people.
However, another major part of the story was about how enraged Hitler was by Owens’ victories. As the story goes:
Hitler was so incensed that this young man whom he deemed “inferior” so soundly defeated his athletes and those of the rest of the world that he refused to award Mr. Owen the 4 Gold Medals he so richly deserved. The controversy spread World wide: it was the Third Reich that was put to shame that day, not Mr. Owens or America. Owens was awarded the Gold Medals and Hitler and his attendants walked out of the stadium in protest.
THAT part of the story is not true.
Yes, Hitler did not congratulate Owens, but he did not congratulate ANYone at the time!
You see, the previous day, Hitler was at the stadium, watching the games.
And he made a point to congratulate only the German winners. Olympic officials informed him that this was against the spirit of the Olympics, and that he would have to congratulate everyone equally or congratulate no one at all. Hitler chose the latter.
And Hitler did not leave the building after Owens’ victories. That is most likely mixed up with the previous day, when Hitler DID leave the building after a different African-American athlete, Cornelius Johnson, won a Gold Medal in the high jump.
The Germans claimed that Hitler’s departure was already scheduled for that time but, well, come on.
Interestingly, in the days and years following the Olympics, Owens often tried to almost defend Hitler’s actions. You see, Owens was angry at the treatment he received back in the United States, like not being asked to come to the White House to meet the President, and he would often chose to highlight the behavior of those in America over Hitler’s reaction. You know, sort of like “You think HE was bad? Well, you should hear what they did back to me in the States!”
But over the years, Owens began to buy into the story, especially as he became a highly successful motivational speaker in the 1950s. He was no dummy – he knew what the people wanted to hear.
Recently, a German reporter, Siegfried Mischner, claimed that Owens actually DID shake hands with Hitler at some point during the 1936 Olympics, and Owens showed Mischner and other reporters the photograph, but they all agreed not to report on it. I don’t know if we’ll ever get any proof on Mischner’s claim either way.
Thanks to Rick Shenkman’s Legends, Lies and Cherished Myths of American History for his work on the myth of the 1936 Olympics!
OLYMPIC LEGEND: An Olympian who stole the Olympic flag in 1920 returned the flag…eighty years later!!!
Haig Prieste (who went by the name “Hal”) was a member of the 1920 U.S. Olympic platform diving team. He won a bronze medal at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.
However, a bronze medal was not the only thing that Prieste took away from those Olympic Games.
On a dare from a teammate, Prieste climbed a flag pole and stole the official Olympic flag, the first official Olympic flag since the Modern Olympics had begun. That flag was replaced and was then used in every Olympics until 1988, when it was retired and a new official flag was made (and is used since).
Seventy-seven years later, Prieste was at a sports banquet for the U.S. Olympic team and a reporter asked about the missing flag. Prieste then shocked the reporter by noting that he had had it in a suitcase since 1920!!!
In 2000, at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, the 103-year-old Prieste returned the flag that he had stole EIGHTY YEARS earlier to the head of International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Better late than never, huh?
Prieste passed away the next year.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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