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A North American Perspective on the Olympics



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1936: Awarded before the Nazis came to power, Berlin hosts the Aryan Olympics. In a widely-regretted gesture of friendship, the Canadian and French teams salute Hitler during the opening ceremonies. Despite Germany’s widespread, state-sponsored use of anabolic steroids and testosterone, black American track and field star Jesse Owens brings glory to the US and a world of hurt to Hitler, winning four gold medals. The US also wins the first medal in basketball… on a dirt court… in driving rain. Joe Fortenbury was high scorer with 7 points.

Medal count: Germany 89; USA 56.

1948 : The Winter Games take place in St. Moritz. Dick Button shows the world a double axel for the first time and wins America’s first figure skating medal. Canada returns to dominance on the hockey rink, winning a fourth gold in the first five Olympic Games… not counting that summer Games win. And Barbara Ann Scott becomes Canada’s darling when she wins gold in women’s figure skating.

Medal count: Edged out by Norway, Sweden and even Switzerland, the US brings home 9 medals.

1948 : The first post-war Olympiad is held in London; Germany and Japan are not invited. Italy is since everyone can beat the Italians. Parts of the games are shown to the public on a new invention: television. Little does anyone know. American Bob Mathias becomes the youngest person to ever win the decathlon at age 17. Hawaiian Harold Sakata wins silver lifting weights. He resurfaces post-Olympics as the head-severing Oddjob in Goldfinger .

Medal count: USA 84; everyone else, fewer. Enjoy it while it lasts; the Russians are coming.

1952 : The Helsinki summer Olympics introduce the world to the USSR sports juggernaut. Soviet women gymnasts launch what will become a sports dynasty that remains unbeaten into the 1980s. Bob Mathias becomes the first man to ever win back-to-back decathlons. Canadians are rumoured to have competed.

Medal count: USA 76; USSR 71. You know where this is headed.

1952 : Former AAU president and US Olympic Committee head Avery Brundage steps into top job at the IOC.

1953 : Jim Thorpe dies. His family presses their claim for the reinstatement of his 1912 Olympic medals from 1912. Avery Brundage who competed unsuccessfully against Thorpe at Stockholm vowing to defend Olympic amateurism, declines. It is a drama that will play out repeatedly for the next 30 years.

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