The Olympics and geopolitics have gone hand-in-hand since the modern Games emerged in 1896. Michael J. Socolow’s new book examines one of the most controversial Olympiads of all time through the lens of emerging technology and an American rowing team that defied the odds to win gold.
The Berlin Olympics, August 14, 1936. German rowers, dominant at the Games, line up against America’s top eight-oared crew. Hundreds of millions of listeners worldwide wait by their radios. Leni Riefenstahl prepares her cameramen. Grantland Rice looks past the 75,000 spectators crowding the riverbank. Above it all, the Nazi leadership, flush with the propaganda triumph the Olympics have given their New Germany, await a crowning victory they can broadcast to the world.
The Berlin Games matched cutting-edge communication technology with compelling sports narrative to draw the blueprint for all future sports broadcasting. A global audience—the largest cohort of humanity ever assembled—enjoyed the spectacle via radio. This still-novel medium offered a “liveness,” a thrilling immediacy no other technology had ever matched. Michael J. Socolow’s account moves from the era’s technological innovations to the human drama of how the race changed the lives of nine young men. As he shows, the origins of global sports broadcasting can be found in this single, forgotten contest. In those origins we see the ways the presentation, consumption, and uses of sport changed forever.