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Exclusive Clip: The U.S. Rowers Who Beat the Nazis in the 1936 Olympics

2 minute read
Updated: | Originally published: ;

Olympic athletes are known for undergoing grueling endurance training to master their sports. But many have also endured personal hardships to get to the games in the first place.

An uplifting story about the latter type of endurance is the subject of the upcoming PBS American Experience documentary The Boys of ’36, which is about the nine working-class men on the University of Washington’s crew team who won a gold medal 80 years ago in competition at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. While getting to that level of athletic achievement at the height of the Great Depression, these sons of loggers and farmers — who worked on salmon boats and as janitors to pay for college — managed to best more privileged oarsmen, like collegiate rivals from the University of California and the Ivy League schools of the East Coast, as well as those from the U.K.’s Oxford and Cambridge.

But, as this exclusive clip shows, their Olympic victory was the most astonishing of all: Nazi Germany’s swastika-wearing rowers quit their jobs to train for the Olympics and were, like many German athletes, seen as a point of national pride, given the opportunity to do anything necessary to achieve a win. After all, that year’s Olympic Games were meant to be a key propaganda tool for Adolf Hitler, who aimed to showcase the physical superiority of the German people—and to present a picture of a country at peace, even as he had already started down the road to World War II.

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The hour-long documentary — inspired by Daniel James Brown’s New York Times bestseller The Boys in the Boat and featuring interviews with children of the oarsmenairs on August 2.

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com