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Panel opens exhibit on 1936 Olympics

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Tying the recent events to the past, a panel opening an exhibition on the 1936 Berlin Olympics pointed out that the Nazis were a regime of terrorists and that as they welcomed visitors for the Games, they were already preparing for war.

The discussion Wednesday in the Gould Auditorium of the Marriott Library opened "The Olympic Games: Legacy and Challenge," on display at the Marriott Library.

The panel, moderated by history professor Ronald Smelser, consisted of Marlon Shirley, a Paralympic gold medalist; Susan Bachrach, curator of the exhibit; and Tim Kaiser, the educator in charge of the exhibit. Kaiser filled in on the panel for Jesse Owens' daughter Marlene Owens-Rankin, who was not able to fly out of Chicago.

Smelser acknowledged the somber mood this week's terrorist attacks have put everyone in. "This was supposed to be a celebratory day, but the recent events have cast a shadow on everything, both literally and figuratively."

Bachrach began the discussion by explaining that most people's perception of the '36 Games is an iconographical showdown between Owens and Adolf Hitler. "It's a moral tale of good triumphing over evil, and we all like stories like that."

Bachrach then pointed out that there is a lot more to the story. She said that there was actually a lot of pressure in the United States to boycott the Games and that the vote to send athletes from the United States was so narrow that it was nearly a tie.

Also, many of the blacks who participated in the '36 Summer Games felt they were treated very well by the Germans. Some athletes and others who saw the United States speak out against the German discrimination of the Jews at the time, were asking "What about intolerance and discrimination at home?" she said.

After World War II, many viewed the '36 Games as the event where the United States went in and disproved Hitler's Aryan ideals, Bachrach said.

"In hindsight after WWII, going to the Games didn't seem like a good idea, but memories let us remember the good and block the bad."

Much like the Games in Berlin, Bachrach pointed out the 2008 Summer Games in China as another disputed Olympic site that will continue to inspire much debate.

"It will be interesting to see how open the Chinese press will be," Bachrach said. "I hope there will be more political journalists that go to these Games. The '36 Games were covered by just sports reporters, and that's reflected in the coverage it received."

Paralympic gold medalist and Utah resident Shirley discussed the legacy of Owens and said he understands what it is to be an athlete who is discriminated against.

"I definitely know what it's like to have the feeling that people don't want to see you compete or discriminate against you," Shirley said. "Owens had the ability, though, to change the hearts of the people. . . . It's not hard to win a gold medal, it's a lot harder to be an Olympian."

The exhibition on the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

E-mail: pthunell@desnews.com