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Greatest Summer Olympian X: Berlin 1936



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Now that the dust is slowly settling after the Singapore vote and it's 2 years till the next vote, it's time to get the greatest Summer Olympian poll restarted.

For those of you who may not remember, there will be three preliminary rounds, ranging from 1896-1928, 1932-68, and 1972-2004. At the end of the first round Jim Thorpe and Paavo Nurmi got the most votes to go through to the final poll, and the first semi candidate for the 32-68 round was Mildred 'Bebe' Didrickson.

Now, as for the Berlin 36 candidates, this could be the biggest one horse race during these polls. Everyone knows Jesse Owens, and recognises his importance as a true legend of the Olympics. I'm sure he'll have the most votes by the end of this poll, will probably sweep into the semi and will be a strong candidate for the greatest summer Olympian ever. But, perhaps the other Berlin 36 greats should be recognized.

Jack Lovelock is a poll option as his gold for the mile was not just a unique achievement at the time, he also set the precedent for NZ's great record in middle distance runners (Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Dick Quax, John Walker).  Ria Mastenbroek prefigured Inge de Bruin as the first great Dutch swimmer, and her impact in Berlin overshadowed German female swimmers as much as Owens overshadowed German track and field hopes.

Of the others, Dhyan Chand is certainly India's greatest ever Olympian, in that his gold at Berlin was his third with the Indian hockey team, Kitei Son won the marathon in the colours of Japan, who at that time occupied his homeland of Korea (and of course 52 years later Son ran the torch into the Seoul 88 stadium).

I don't think there's any need to give a broader history of the so-called "Hitler's Games"...for that read Cohen's 'The Games of 36', Mandell's 'Nazi Olympics' and Hart-Davis's 'Hitler's Games'; each one is an excellent read and a must have for any Olympic library.

mastenbroek_gal_l_04.jpg Rie Mastenbroek

owens_gal_l_03.jpg Jesse Owens

jack_lovelock_smiling.jpg Jack Lovelock

28spec1.jpg Dhyan Chand

05501.jpg Kitei Son

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Seb, you've left out Aladar Gerevich.  He's one of the all-time greats!!  Not famous -- but great in my book!!

I know you've been the President of the Aladar Gerevich fan club well nigh on 30 years Baron, but don't panic me old china. He's still got several games to get a shot in as a poll option. Maybe Rome 1960 considering that's when he won the last of his 7 golds.

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In some way I wish I could have included Luz Long, as per the story below about his long jump duel with Jesse Owens:

The next day, Owens was almost out of the long jump shortly after qualifying began. He fouled on his first two jumps, though he was stunned when officials counted a practice run down the runway and into the pit as an attempt.

With one jump remaining, Luz Long, a tall, blue-eyed, blond German long jumper who was his stiffest competition, introduced himself. He suggested that Owens make a mark several inches before the takeoff board and jump from there to play it safe. Owens took the advice, and qualified.

In the finals that afternoon, Long's fifth jump matched Owens' 25-10. But Owens leaped 26-3 on his next attempt and won the gold medal with a final jump of 26-5. The first to congratulate the Olympic record holder was Long, who looked like the model Nazi but wasn't.

"It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler," Owens said. "You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn't be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War II." Owens, though, would continue to correspond with Long's family.

As far as I'm concerned, that's the stuff of Olympic legends.

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Well, as it's been a week since this poll was posted, it's obvious that Jesse Owens wins this round. I'm a little surprised that Rie Mastenbroek failed to get any, and the occasional parochial Kiwi must have voted for Jack Lovelock. So Owens goes through to the next semi with 32 winner Babe Didrickson.

Now onto 1948 London.

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