1936 Olympic Games, Berlin, Germany. Five young women take part in a display of the Olympic Rings.
Five young women take part in a display of the Olympic Rings at the 1936 Olympic Games in BerlinPopperfoto—Getty Images
1936 Olympic Games, Berlin, Germany. Five young women take part in a display of the Olympic Rings.
Beginning of the eleventh Olympic Games. August 1,1936.
1936 Olympic Games, Berlin, Germany, Men's 100 Metres Final, USA's legendary Jesse Owens on his way to winning one of his four gold medals.
The 13-year springboard diver Marjorie Gestring at the Olympic Games in Berlin. August 12, 1936.
A German technician checks the Television canon put in the Olympic Stadium, 01 August 1936, a huge electronic camera buildt by Telefunken, which broadcast live for the first time, 8 hours each day, the Berlin Olympics Games show.
Berlin Olympic Games, Jesse Owens and Helen Stephens, 1936, Germany.
Gisela Mauermayer, Germany, winner of the gold medal in the Discus event at the 1936 Olympic Games.
Dr. Joseph Goebbels, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Reichs Sports Leader Hans von Tschammer und Osten and Generalfeldmarschall Werner von Blomberg observe the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany in August 1936. (AP Photo) --- Dr. Goebbels, Adolf Hitler, Tschammer und Osten, von Blomberg als Zuschauer bei den Olympischen Spielen in Berlin, im August 1936.
Winner of the men's javelin throw event at the Summer Olympic Games, German athlete Gerhard Stoeck in action on August 6, 1936 in Berlin, Germany.
1936 Olympic Games, Berlin, Germany. Women's 80 Metres Hurdles, The start of the race which was won by Valle of Italy.
The Racing Cyclists Robert Charpentier, Guy Lapebie, Jean Goujon And Roger Le Nizerhy Just After Having Won The Team Race At The Olympic Games Of Berlin In August 1936.
1936 Olympic Games, Berlin, Germany. Basketball action between the Philippines and Mexico.
The German Female Javelin Throwers Tilly Fleischer (Gold Medal) And Luis Kruger (Silver Medal) As Well As The Polish Bronze-Medalist Marja Kwasniewska, Standing On The Podium Of The Olympic Games In Berlin On August 2, 1936.
1936 Olympic Games. Berlin, Germany. Women's Javelin. Germany's Tilly Fleischer who won the gold medal.
Olympic broad jump medalists salute during the medals ceremony at the Summer Olympics in Berlin. From left on podium are: bronze medalist Jajima of Japan, gold medalist Jesse Owens of the United States and silver medalist Lutz Long of Germany. August 11, 1936.
Olympic winner Gustav 'Gummi' Schaefer, German rower, with the laurel wreath during the Summer Olympics in Berlin-Grünau in August 1936.
1936 Olympic Games, Berlin, Germany, A stonemason at work records the feat of USA's Jesse Owens, winner of four gold medals in the Games.
Five young women take part in a display of the Olympic Rings at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin
Popperfoto—Getty Images
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See the Controversial Drama of Adolf Hitler's 1936 Summer Olympics

It was no surprise that the 1936 Summer Olympics were going to be complicated. The wrangling had begun months before the games, as the U.S. considered whether to pull out of the games over the suspicion that Jewish athletes were not being allowed to compete for spots on teams for the host nation, Germany. By the time Hitler and the German team opened the games that August, TIME noted that the athletic events were being overshadowed by "other doings in Berlin." (In that issue of the magazine, the Games shared space with the news that the German church was protesting Naziism and that Charles Lindbergh was in the country and meeting top Nazi officials.)

"Whether or not the Olympic Games actually serve their purpose of promoting international understanding remains dubious," TIME commented the following week.

The bright spot was Jesse Owens. It was on this day, Aug. 3, in 1936, that Ohio's track phenom won the gold in the 100-m. dash, after setting a new record for that race the day before. Before the week was up, he had won at the long jump and the 200-m. dash, and helped bring a relay team to first place too.

At the Owens cabana in the Olympic Village, awed rivals crowded to feel the Owens muscles, get the Owens autograph. In Cleveland Governor Martin L. Davey decreed a Jesse Owens Day. Over the radio, Mrs. Henry Cleveland Owens described her son: “Jesse was always a face boy. . . . When a problem came up, he always faced it.” Said Face Boy Owens, before his fourth trip to the Victory Stand to have a laurel wreath stuck on his kinky head, be awarded a minute potted oak tree and the Olympic first prize of a diploma and a silver-gilt medal: “That’s a grand feeling standing up there. ... I never felt like that before. . . .”

Not everyone, of course, saw Owens' victories as highlights. Hitler famously refused to congratulate him; as TIME explained in the same story, a prominent Nazi theory to explain why the U.S. was beating the host nation so much was "that Negroes are not really people" but rather an "auxiliary force" brought in by the otherwise disappointing real (white) American team. Despite the attempt to explain away the wins with such falsehoods, Owens had proved Hitler's theories about race differences wrong.

When Owens died in 1980, TIME noted that his time on the track ended up ultimately less important than his timing in history: "At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, which Adolf Hitler hoped would be a showcase of Aryan supremacy, Owens won four gold medals in track and field events, a feat not equaled since. The sight of the graceful American's soaring victory in the long jump and his Olympic-record wins in the 100-and 200-meter dashes and 400-meter relay put the lie to der Führer's simplistic myths about race."

Read more about Jesse Owens from 1936, here in the TIME Vault: Hero Owens

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18 Groundbreaking Female Athletes

Lili De Alvarez 1926
Spanish tennis player Lili de Alvarez after she had beaten Molla Mallory in the lawn tennis ladies singles championships at Beckenham, England, on June 12, 1926. Alvarez made headlines in 1931 for wearing what TIME described that year as "a split skirt which resembled a pair of abbreviated pajamas" (in other words, shorts) at Wimbledon.G. Adams—Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Lili De Alvarez 1926
Conchita Cintron the Matadora 1941
Toni Stone 1950
Babe Didrikson Zaharias 1951
Patty Berg 1951
Althea Gibson, 1956
Nancy Greene 1968
Kathy Switzer roughed up by Jock Semple during Boston Mararthon, April 19, 1967.
Barbara Jo Rubin 1969
Billie Jean King 1973
Chris Evert 1974
Mary Decker 1978
Ann Myers 1979
Marianne Martin 1984
Libby Riddles 1985
Michelle Akers 1991
Manon Rheaume 1992
Jackie Joyner-Kersee 1992
Spanish tennis player Lili de Alvarez after she had beaten Molla Mallory in the lawn tennis ladies singles championships
... VIEW MORE

G. Adams—Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
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