Olympic fairy tale, goodbye! The Olympic Movement is 125 years old: what were the most scandalous and tragic games of the 20th century

125 years ago, on April 6, 1896, the first modern Olympic Games opened in Athens.¬†The idea, proposed by the young French scientist¬†Pierre de Coubertin, to gather the world’s strongest athletes in one place and hold competitions in various sports in a few days, turned out to be extremely successful.¬†

Very quickly, the Olympiads turned into the main world sporting event and have been held since then every four years, with breaks for two world wars. 

The Olympic Charter states that sport should remain outside politics, but in practice, the Olympic Games often became an instrument of big politics, where everything from propaganda to terrorism was found. Olympics-games.net recalls the most scandalous and tragic Olympics of the 20th century.

The house that Baron de Coubertin built

June 23, 1894 in one of the halls of the famous Parisian Sorbonne gathered the first ever sports congress, which was attended by delegates from twelve countries. 

Russia was represented by General Alexey Dmitrievich Butkovsky. The main subject of discussion was the project of the young French scientist Pierre de Coubertin on the revival of the Olympic Games. 

Everyone liked the idea, and the International Olympic Committee was formed to hold the competition. The first Games of the new era were decided to be held in Greece, paying tribute to the Olympic tradition of this land.

Olympic games history photoPin

At the same time, humane principles were formulated that were included in the Olympic Charter. Their general meaning was that the youth of the world should measure their strength not on the fields of war, but in sports. And sport is to cultivate nobility, honesty, generosity and to be free from politics.

The first Modern Games were held in Athens from 6 to 16 April 1896 with great success, becoming the largest sporting event since ancient Greece. 247 athletes from 14 countries competed for 41 sets of medals in 9 sports. This is how the Olympic story began.

Over a century and a quarter, the Olympic movement has largely lost its humanistic principles. There are enough examples in history when they were sacrificed to political ambitions, and the games themselves turned into an instrument of propaganda and blackmail.

Records of the Third Reich

Germany won the right to host the next Winter and Summer Olympic Games in 1931. The choice, despite considerable competition, did not surprise anyone. 

Berlin Рthe capital of the Weimar Republic Рwas considered one of the most fashionable and free cities in the world. 

1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin photoPin

Giving preference to Germany, the world community seemed to declare: the world war is in the past, and the Germans are returning to a friendly family of nations.

However, in 1933 the situation changed, the National Socialists came to power. Rumors of the persecution of Jews, communists and dissidents have spread throughout the world. 

German official propaganda denied this, explaining it by slandering its political opponents. However, in a number of countries, and primarily in the United States, calls began to be heard for a boycott of the Berlin Olympics. 

Under their pressure, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sent an official request to the chairman of the organizing committee of the Berlin Olympics, Karl von Halt. To which he indignantly replied:

If the anti-German press calls for bringing internal German affairs to the Olympic level, then this is regrettable and demonstrates an unfriendly attitude towards Germany in the worst possible way.

Nobody wanted to quarrel with the Germans. A year before the start of the Games, IOC Honorary President Pierre de Coubertin visited the capital of the Reich. The elderly Frenchman was delighted with the new sports facilities and fascinated by his meeting with Hitler.

The decisive role in the victory over the supporters of the boycott was played by the position of the President of the American Olympic Committee, Avery Brandedge, who said that the boycott was ‚Äúan idea alien to the spirit of America,‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúJews must understand that they cannot use the Games as a weapon in their struggle against national socialists “.

1936 Summer Olympics photoPin

French Ambassador to Germany Andr√© Fran√ßois-Poncet wrote: “The Summer Olympic Games were the apotheosis of Hitler and the Third Reich.

“The “apotheosis” began with the Winter Games, which took place in February 1936 in two alpine villages of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, “separated by a stream and a hyphen.”¬†

The Winter Games were inferior in scale to the Summer Games, but they already contained the basic elements that made the 1936 Olympics the most controversial event in world sports history.

The assertion that politics and sport are incompatible has never sounded more absurd than in 1936. Between the Winter and Summer Olympics, Hitler captured the demilitarized Rhineland with the cities of Cologne, Dusseldorf and Bonn. But that was also forgiven him.

The Nazis cleverly used the sporting event as a distraction and effective propaganda. Everything was thought out to the smallest detail: from the opening ceremony to the menu in the dining room for each team.

1936 Olympic Games photoPin

A record number of foreign guests arrived in Germany, and this gave the Nazis the opportunity to present their regime in the best possible way. 

The visitors had to make sure with their own eyes that Germany is a powerful, effective, absolutely safe country, whose inhabitants are simple, sincere and love to have fun. And their Fuhrer is just darling.

American journalist Westbrook Pegler wrote:

Hitler sat in a low box near the open hockey rink, completely open and, apparently, was pleased with the huge number of people who approached him. He willingly signed autographs to everyone. What an amazing contrast to the arrogant Greta Garbo, whose autograph is impossible.

Hitler was not a supporter of high-performance sports, preferring mass sports, necessary for the physical education of the masses. 

However, he understood that the Olympic Games could be successfully used to promote the German way of life and the advantages of the Aryan race.

During the preparation and holding of the competition, any signs of anti-Semitism disappeared from the streets, as well as from the German press. 

The Nazis removed the signs warning that Jews were not served. Specially trained Jewish athletes told the guests of the Games about their happy life in the Reich. Huge funds were allocated for the Olympics-36, and the scale of the events amazed the imagination of eyewitnesses.

During the opening of the Games, the 304-meter Hindenburg airship with a giant Olympic flag and a swastika on its tail hovered over the Olympic Stadium. Richard Strauss conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, a military band and a choir of a thousand singers in white robes.

medal 1936 olympic berlin photoPin

When the Fuehrer appeared at the stadium, accompanied by high-ranking Nazis and leaders of the International Olympic Committee, the audience’s hands threw up in a single Nazi salute, and the orchestras struck Wagner’s March of the Allegiance.¬†

Hitler took his place and the stadium sang the hymn “Germany Above All”, and then the song of Horst Wessel.¬†Red and black fascist banners with swastikas were everywhere, but then it was perceived as just a strange decoration.

No nation since ancient Greece has been able to capture the spirit of the Olympics better than Germany.

Avery Brandage

President of the NOC of the United States

The Germans found and brought to the opening of the Games a 63-year-old Greek peasant who won the marathon of the Athens Olympics in 1896. 

Dressed in a folk costume, Spiridon Louis presented the Fuhrer with an olive branch cut on Mount Olympus.¬†The Greek bows, satisfaction and pride on Hitler’s face.

Perhaps, and fortunately, Spiridon Louis did not live to see the moment when four and a half years later, Hitler’s soldiers will be photographed at the walls of the ancient Parthenon in the occupied Greek capital.

The Berlin Olympics turned out to be successful for the hosts, who won 33 gold medals (89 in total). The second place went to the USA team (24, 56). 

The third, fourth and fifth places were taken by Germany’s allies: Hungary (10.16), Italy (8.22) and Finland (7.19).¬†The Soviet Union did not take part in the Games.

The games were broadcast on television for the first time. In 33 TV shows in three cities in Germany, 160 thousand people watched them live. 

And following the results of the Games, the grandiose film “Olympia” by Leni Riefenstahl was released, which received many of the most prestigious awards.

However, in a barrel of propaganda honey, the Fuhrer and the German leadership found a few fly in the ointment. 

So, the hero of the Olympics was the “racially inferior” African American¬†Jesse Owens¬†, who won four gold medals at once.¬†

And the German national football team, which was considered the favorite of the games, in the semifinals, in front of the Fuhrer, lost to the little-known team of Norway (0: 2).

Hitler turned out to be a non-cheerleader at all. The next time he came to the stadium two years later, together with 110 thousand other true Aryans, to watch the defeat from the England national team – 3: 6.

The Berlin Olympics in 1936 did not bring either peace or relaxation of tension, but became a demonstration of the power, cohesion and confidence of the totalitarian machine of the Third Reich – “One country, one people, one Fuhrer!”¬†It was obvious that Hitler had just begun his ascent and had a ravenous appetite.

The warning, if heard, did not provoke any response. Humanity was confidently sliding towards a new world war, and this process was becoming irreversible. 

Spain was already on fire, Italy seized Abyssinia and declared the Mediterranean Sea “Our sea”.¬†Japan made a pact with Hitler, the Soviet Union armed itself.¬†There were three years left before the outbreak of World War II.

Black September 1972

Over the quarter of a century that have passed since the end of the Second World War, defeated, disgraced, deprived of significant territories and human resources, divided in two, Germany has achieved significant success. 

While Britain, having lost its overseas possessions, increasingly locked itself in on its islands, and France and Italy were stuck between capitalism and socialism, the Federal Republic of Germany, thanks to German hard work and American loans, gradually became the economic leaders of Europe. But moral problems remained.

1936 Olympic Games Berlin photoPin

No matter how the world community, taught by the sad experience of Versailles, tried to convince itself that it was not the German people, but the Nazis and their demoniac Fuhrer, who were to blame for the crimes against humanity, destruction and countless victims, clear evidence and examples were needed.

The signal for rehabilitation and a certain test for democratic transformations was the permission to host two major international sporting events in Germany – the 72 Olympics and the 1974 FIFA World Cup.

The foreign guests who came from all over the world (a record number of countries Р121 and 7170 athletes took part in the Munich Olympics), had to make the most favorable impression. 

And the Germans went out of their way to demonstrate their benevolence, tolerance, democracy and freedom. 

If in 1936, visitors to the Olympics celebrated a huge number of people in military uniform, police officers and all kinds of passes, then in Munich the presence of security forces and checks was minimized. God forbid, the guests will decide that someone is watching them, or their actions are trying to control.

But where the road, laid out with good intentions, leads, everyone knows. In the late 60s, several large terrorist organizations operated in the world: the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Basque ETA, the Italian Red Brigades, the German Red Army Faction (RAF), the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

And in almost every the country had some kind of local terrorist organization with its own goals, objectives and means. 

Such a resonant event as the Olympic Games, and even with a poorly organized security system, could not fail to attract the attention of terrorists.

Where it is thin, there it is torn. Munich Olympiad-72 went down in history not with its excellent organization and sporting achievements, but with the murder of 11 members of the Israeli delegation, committed by Palestinian terrorists from the Black September.

It was the second week of the Olympic Games.¬†On September 5, 1972, at five o’clock in the morning, eight young men, dressed in tracksuits with heavy bags in their hands, appeared at the unprotected fence of the Olympic Village.¬†

The athletes walking around the territory kindly helped them to get inside, apparently deciding that it was the violators of the regime who were returning to play.

Approaching the building where the Israeli Olympic delegation was located, the terrorists began to unlock the doors with pre-prepared keys. 

This was heard by the wrestling judge Josef Gutfreund. Having piled on the door with his entire weight (135 kg), he tried to detain the people armed with machine guns, thereby giving time to his roommate, weightlifting judge Tuvier Sokolski, to jump out the window. 

Wrestling judge Moshe Weinberg came to Gutfreund’s aid, and then the attackers started shooting.¬†Weinberg was shot in the face, piercing the cheek.

Meanwhile, in one of the adjacent rooms, the terrorists captured six more athletes. Weinberg came to his senses, wounded one of the Palestinians with a kitchen knife in the head, and stunned the other with a blow of his fist, but was shot. 

The resistance continued, the veteran of the Six Day War, weightlifter Yosef Romano, managed to injure one of the terrorists, but he himself was seriously wounded. 

As it became known later, he was tortured, castrated, and he died of blood loss. The wrestler Gadi Tsabari ran through the underground garage in the commotion. 

In total, nine living hostages from Israel fell into the hands of the terrorists. Athletes from Uruguay and Hong Kong who lived in the same building were allowed to leave.

The police reacted to what was happening half an hour later. The building was cordoned off. At 6:20 am, the first reports of shooting and hostage-taking in the Olympic Village appeared in the media. Negotiations began. 

The terrorists demanded the release of 234 Palestinians in Israeli prisons and 18 prisoners in Western Europe, including two Germans, the founders of the RAF.¬†As proof of their serious intentions, they threw Weinberg’s body onto the street.

Israel replied that there would be no negotiations with the terrorists, and offered to immediately send special forces. But the Germans refused. 

Palestinian Black September terrorist on a balcony in a seized Olympic Village building photoPin

For them, the situation turned out to be especially difficult, since the hostages were Jews. The President of the NOC of the Federal Republic of Germany offered the Palestinians to pay any amount for the hostages or exchange them for German high-ranking officials, including himself, but was refused:

Money means nothing to us, our lives mean nothing to us

Meanwhile, the Olympic Village lived a normal life, the stadium competitions continued. American marathon runner Frank Shorter watched from his balcony: ‚ÄúImagine these poor fellows, what they have to do. Every five minutes, a psychopath with a gun offers someone to finish off, and the other replies to him that he needs to wait a bit longer. “

By the middle of the day, the competition was stopped. And at 18:00 the terrorists voiced a new demand: a flight with the hostages to Cairo.

The German authorities agreed to this, despite the fact that Egypt refused to accept the plane. According to the developed plan, it was decided to release the hostages at the airfield. 

The two terrorists who were supposed to get on the plane to inspect it were to be eliminated by six police officers disguised as members of the liner crew. 

The rest were to be shot by five snipers who took up positions. None of the police officers and snipers had any special training. 

According to the laws of the Federal Republic of Germany, the army did not have the right to intervene in events within the country, and special groups to fight terrorists in Germany did not yet exist at that time.

Two helicopters carrying eight Palestinians and nine hostages landed at F√ľrstenfeldbruck airport at 22:30.¬†By this time, the police on the plane decided that they were no longer involved in the operation, and went home without even warning the leaders of the operation.¬†

Only five snipers remained in positions, without night vision devices or even radios.¬†Moreover, they were on each other’s lines of fire, not knowing about it.

Finding that the plane was empty, the two terrorists ran back to the helicopters. At this time, the sniper opened fire, wounding one of them. 

There was general shooting and panic. As a result, both helicopters were blown up, all the hostages, one policeman and four terrorists were killed. Two more police officers and one sniper were badly wounded by friendly fire.

Three Palestinians surrendered. Another managed to escape, but was later discovered by the dogs being set on a trail. An hour later, he was pelted with grenades in the airport parking lot.

Israel demanded the extradition of the captured terrorists, but the FRG authorities refused them, not wanting to spoil relations with the Arab world. 

Already in October, they were exchanged by the Germans for 11 passengers and 7 crew members of a Lufthansa aircraft captured by terrorists during a flight from Beirut to Ankara. 

In Libya, the surviving members of Black September were greeted as heroes by a crowd of 30,000.

Later, two of the three, as well as seven more Black September members responsible for the deaths of Israeli athletes, were killed by agents of the Israeli special service Mossad during Operation Wrath of God retaliation.

As for the Olympics, it was stopped for just one day.¬†On September 6, a memorial service was held at the Olympic Stadium, during which Moshe Weinberg’s brother died of a heart attack.¬†

The ceremony was attended by athletes from all countries, except for 10 Arab countries and the Soviet Union. It should be said that three of the dead Israeli athletes РFridman, Khalfin and Slavin Рwere from the USSR.

Olympic boycott

In the 1970s, the Soviet Union advocated a relaxation of world tension and actively fought for peace, at least in words. 

The USSR had a reputation, the authority of a superpower and many friends of varying degrees of loyalty and selflessness. 

Therefore, when in 1974, at the 75th session of the IOC in Vienna, the NOC of the USSR proposed Moscow as the capital of the XXII Olympic Games in 1980, this did not raise any special objections. In the voting, Moscow defeated Los Angeles by 39 votes to 20.

For the first time, the Olympic Games were to be held in one of the countries of the socialist camp. Naturally, the USSR wanted to show the world its achievements and demonstrate the advantages of socialism. 

Nobody remembered that sports should be outside of politics, athletes competed not so much with each other in sports, as they proved that their system was better. Sports became more and more an instrument of pressure, blackmail and political propaganda.

Stadium them. CM. Kirov in Leningrad, where the games of the Olympic football tournament were held photoPin

At the 1976 games in Montreal, 29 countries (mostly African) dropped out due to the fact that the New Zealand national team played several matches with the South African national team in rugby, thereby breaking the isolation of the apartheid regime. 

At the same time, rugby was not even an Olympic sport. The refuseniks demanded that New Zealand be expelled, and since this did not happen, they defiantly refused to participate in the Olympics-76.

The organizing committee of the 1980 Olympics had to solve a whole bunch of political problems. The DPRK did not want to see South Korea at the Games, China demanded not to let Taiwan in, the Africans split into interest groups and constantly demanded not to let someone in, or vice versa, refused to participate if someone did not go. 

There were disagreements among the Germans (FRG, GDR and West Berlin). Almost all of these problems were resolved after long negotiations, but then the war in Afghanistan began.

On December 27, 1979, special forces of the KGB and the GRU stormed the palace of the head of Afghanistan, Hafizullah Amin. 

Republican stadium in Kiev, where the games of the Olympic football tournament were held photoPin

The next day, the first Soviet military units began to arrive in Kabul. The convened UN Security Council at its meeting did not adopt the anti-Soviet resolution prepared by the United States. 

The USSR used its veto right. But the result of the vote did not cause optimism Р104: 18 in favor of the United States and its allies.

On January 4, US President Jimmy Carter launched an initiative to boycott the Moscow Olympics. He was supported by the UK and Canada. However, no final decision was made.

On February 13, the 1980 Winter Olympics opened in the American Lake Placid.¬†Against the background of loud statements by the United States about the possible possibility of a boycott of the Moscow Games, the USSR nevertheless sent athletes to the Winter Games.¬†Perhaps, in this way, we hoped that the West would appreciate the gesture of goodwill and would not insist on a boycott of the Summer Olympics.¬†There is also another version.¬†General Secretary of the¬†CPSU Central Committee¬†Leonid Brezhnev was¬†very fond of hockey and could not deny himself the pleasure of admiring the next Olympic triumph of the “red car”.¬†But it was in Lake Placid that the loudest hockey embarrassment happened.¬†The Soviet superteam in the decisive match lost Olympic gold to the Americans, whose team was made up of students.

Nevertheless, on April 12, 1980, at the headquarters of the US NOC in Colorado Springs, the final decision was made on the non-participation of the American team in the 1980 Olympics. 

Olympic Village in Moscow photoPin

The leaders of the Olympians obeyed the demands of the politicians. However, not all Western athletes agreed to the boycott. 

In particular, the British Olympic Association, despite the tough pressure of Margaret Thatcher , decided to participate in the games. Athletes arrived in Moscow in an organized manner and one by one.

Some had almost detective stories.¬†Thus, the Austrian Elisabeth Theurer, who became Olympic champion in dressage, along with her horse Mon Cher, was brought to Moscow by her friend, the famous race car driver, Formula 1 champion Niki Lauda, ‚Äč‚Äčon a private plane.¬†

To do this, he had to remove all the seats from the cabin, and during the flight, the horse periodically looked into the cockpit.

Olympic Sailing Center in Tallinn photoPin

Italian Ezio Gamba won gold in judo competitions (up to 71 kg). But since the Italian military was forbidden to go to the Olympics, he had to defect from the army.

Due to the boycott, athletes from 65 countries, including the United States, Germany, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Egypt, whose athletes are traditionally strong in summer Olympic sports, did not take part in the Games. Liberia decided to join the boycott after the start of the Olympics.

Athletes from Australia, Andorra, Belgium, Great Britain, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Puerto Rico, San Marino, France and Switzerland have competed under the flags of the IOC or their own national Olympic committees.

Only teams from Austria, Greece, Malta, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Cyprus left the countries of Western Europe under their own flags.

Not only athletes, but also tourists, who were supposed to pay off the 1980 Olympics with their own money, did not come to Moscow, many sponsors broke contracts, and refused to buy the rights of the TV company. 

Instead of the expected profit, the USSR faced losses. Brezhnev several times tried to cancel the Games, but then he forgot about it.

July 19, 1980 Opening ceremony of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow photoPin

Once he saw on TV a report about the preparation of sports facilities for the Olympics, he was indignant:

What kind of fool was he who suggested organizing the Olympics in Moscow ?! This is nonsense! We are going to waste a lot of money, but why do we need it? In addition to several anti-Soviet scandals, we will not have anything from this Olympics

In the absence of many competitors, the USSR team won a record number of medals in Moscow – 195. Of these, 80 were gold.

The Olympics passed without a single incident. About 6 thousand foreign citizens were not allowed into the USSR for security reasons. All others were carefully searched for weapons or illegal literature.

All potentially dangerous citizens were removed from the capital in advance. Children were sent to camps, students to practice and to construction brigades, alcoholics and sociopaths 101 kilometers away. 

August 3, 1980. Closing ceremony of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow photoPin

Entry to Moscow on business unrelated to the Games was closed. Special passes have been introduced for those working at the Games. Tourist routes in the capital were closed, business trips and conferences were canceled.

The registered patients, potentially capable of illegal actions, were closed in psychiatric hospitals. In the KGB note No. 902-A “On the main measures to ensure security”, there was a special explanation in this regard:

In order to prevent possible daring antisocial manifestations on the part of mentally ill persons carrying aggressive intentions, together with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and health authorities, measures are being taken to prevent the isolation of such persons for the period of the Olympics-80

They say that thieves in law and crime bosses were strictly warned about responsibility for the period of the Games.

Moscow was full of law enforcement officials. Contacts with foreigners were strictly regulated by time and place. 

Only trusted Komsomol members were allowed to meet with the guests of the capital under the supervision of even more trusted members of the CPSU. 

In the center of Moscow and at sports facilities, policemen in ceremonial white shirts and the same white caps stood every 50-100 meters. 

With people with something, in their opinion, suspicious (long hair, unusual clothes or too loose behavior), they made constant eye contact, passing them from one to another.

In crowded places, disguised law enforcement officers were constantly present. It was easy to get into jail for the usual exchange of tickets or their resale. 

Berlin Olympic Stadium and Olympic Bell photoPin

There was some subtlety here: on each ticket there was an official price Р5, 9, 12 rubles. But since the halls remained half empty due to the lack of tourists at many sporting events, tickets were sold at a 70 percent discount. 

But God forbid you try to sell these tickets at the denomination indicated on them.¬†The article “speculation” was instantly published.

But even all these measures of control and suppression could not deprive Soviet citizens, who were not spoiled by bread and circuses, from the feeling of a holiday, kill the passion of sports competitions, and emasculate the atmosphere of the Olympics. Those who were lucky enough to attend the Games in those days will never forget them.

In the 20th century, the Olympic Games, conceived by Pierre de Coubertin as a world holiday of goodness and sport, gradually turned into an instrument of political propaganda, pressure, blackmail, ambition and rather dirty business. 

This trend has continued in our century. Apparently, there is no such good deed that humanity could not eventually spoil.

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Author: Emma Klarsten

Olympic games are my true passion, in this blog I share Olympics secrets from Ancient Greek Olympics till nowadays.