Antifascist athletes? A reappraisal of the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Keith Rathbone*

*Corresponding author for this work

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In Olympia, Leni Riefenstahl offered representations of idealized Aryan athletes and their democratic counterparts, including Jesse Owens. Her evocative images shaped historical memory and the historiography of the Berlin Games as either a German propaganda victory or a moment of athletic antifascist resistance. The notion of the Berlin Games populated with 'democratic' and 'fascist' athletes is largely ahistorical. Riefenstahl's fascist/antifascist dyad prompted scholars to ask questions about appropriate athletic behaviors, but it also required them to elide contrary histories, including Owens' own experiences of racial segregation in the United States. A more holistic view of the Games, that encompasses both the antifascist resistance to it and the ultimate decision of most athletes to attend, confounds any analysis that slips sportsmen and women into neat heuristic categories of fascist and antifascist and opens the door to the possibility of personal politics outside of the dyad of fascism/ antifascism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-220
Number of pages26
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Antifascism
  • Berlin Olympics
  • Germany
  • National Socialism
  • Sport


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