As one walked into the Olympiastadion here on Saturday afternoon, one noticed the stadium guide narrating the story of Jesse Owens' memorable friendship with his German long jump rival Luz Long to a bunch of eager youngsters from Britain.
The Owens-Long story, that lit up the 1936 Berlin Olympics in this stadium, has probably been told a million times over the last 80 years or so but it has not lost even a bit of its charm. The massive stadium is loaded with history and with every step, one could virtually feel the Games coming back to life.
This is the place where Owens won an unprecedented four Olympic golds in front of a stunned Adolf Hitler who organised the Games. And one could almost picture the young, bright-eyed Francina Koen running to Owens to get his autograph shortly after her very forgettable Olympic debut in Berlin. But that moment with Owens in 1936 inspired the Dutch girl who later won four golds herself as Fanny Blankers-Koen in the 1948 London Olympics, the first woman to do so.
In another corner of the Olympia Park is the stadium where Dhyan Chand led India to the hockey gold, thrashing host Germany 8-1 in the final to complete a hat-trick of Olympic golds after triumphs in Amsterdam 1928 and Los Angeles 1932. The 'Wizard of Hockey' mesmerised Hitler and the world with his magical stickwork and fired in three goals in what was his last Olympics. He was so good that there are stories about play being stopped at some venues to check whether Chand had applied glue to his hockey stick or whether there was a magnet inside!
OLYMPIC TORCH RELAY BEGAN HERE
Coming back to Berlin, the Olympic torch relay was in fact invented by Hitler's Germany though it is made to look like a Greek tradition. The Berlin Olympics was the first time the torch was carried as part of a relay, starting from Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympics in Greece, by 3422 runners to the German city.
Berlin has now rolled out the red carpet for another historic sporting event. The city will host the Laureus World Sports Awards – the Oscars of Sport - which celebrate its 20 anniversary at the Verti Music Hall on Monday.
Some of planet's biggest stars, present and past, like Eliud Kipchoge, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Sergey Bubka, Michael Johnson, Edwin Moses, Daley Thompson, Boris Becker, Cafu, Nadia Comaneci, Mark Spitz, Dawn Fraser, Chris Hoy and Marvellous Marvin Hagler will light up the night.
Many of them would probably visit the Olympiastadion where every stone has a story to tell. “Without Long's advice, Owens would have bowed out in the long jump qualification round at the Olympics here. Long lost the Olympic gold to Owens but he gained a friend for life,” repeated the guide guide a few times.
(The writer is in Berlin at the invitation of Laureus)
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