(The following is a feature in the July/August 2016 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM, that was written by Audrey Fischer, magazine editor. You can read the issue in its entirety here.)
Broadcasts of the Olympic Games bring the event to life for millions of viewers and leave a record behind for posterity.
When the 2016 Summer Olympics open in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 5, there will be no lack of media coverage. In fact, the use of video streaming, smartphones and tablets will allow viewers to access Olympic coverage in a wider variety of ways than ever before.
That wasn’t always the case.
Held during the Great Depression, the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles (the X Olympiad) was a relatively austere event. Many nations could not afford to send their athletes to compete. And the Los Angeles Olympic Committee chose not to devote scarce resources to global broadcasting.
Four short years later, Germany made broadcast history by being the first to televise a sports event—the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin. The quality was poor and live transmissions could only be seen in special viewing booths in Berlin and Potsdam.
But the Nazi regime took the opportunity to showcase its considerable radio broadcasting capabilities at the 1936 Olympics and focus the world’s attention on Germany. Ironically, in doing so, they helped bring international attention to African-American track star Jesse Owens who won four gold medals in track and field (100 meters, 200 meters, long jump and the 4x 100-meter relay). In its NBC Collection, the Library holds a number of radio broadcasts from the Berlin Olympics, including an interview with Owens and his coach aboard the Queen Mary on their return home.
Eighty years later, Jesse Owens is still remembered, not only as an Olympic hero but for destroying Adolf Hitler’s myth of racial purity. His story is told in the 2016 feature film “Race.”
The University of Washington’s eight-oar crew was another underdog in the 1936 Olympics, who brought home Olympic gold. Sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers, the team defeated elite rivals from U.S. and British universities and ultimately beat the German crew rowing for Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin. The so-called “boys in the boat” are the subject of a 2013 book by Daniel James Brown, which is in film development.
The NBC Collection also includes a radio recording of the rowing team’s Olympic win. It aired on Aug. 14, 1936, as part of the NBC Olympics Roundup programming. NBC broadcast nightly from Germany, giving listeners a summary of the day’s events. Since the event was at night, NBC broadcast full coverage of the race.