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Rio Olympics 2016: 5 instances when the Olympics became a medium for social change

The Olympics have often been a vehicle for social transformation.

Jesse Owens
Jesse Owens can claim to have single handedly dented Adolf Hitler’s pride

For its founder Pierre de Coubertin, the Olympics was never going to be merely about sports. The 33-year-old envisaged the event to be a vehicle of change for the world where wars will be fought in sporting arenas and finished there, without any blood being spilled on the battlefields. Although Coubertin’s dream couldn’t prevent two bloody wars from claiming millions of human lives, it did manage to rise from time to time from being just a sporting event to being much more socially significant.

The quadrennial event that brings athletes from all over the world together on one of the biggest sporting stages also brings together different races, identities, cultures together. And with eyes of the whole world on them, it serves as a great opportunity for them to say to the world what their national governments aren’t always listening to.

Here are five instances when the Olympics became the vehicle of social change

1) Jesse Owens shatters Hitler’s pride in 1936

Jesse Owens
Jesse Owens emerged as the most successful athlete in 1936 Olympics

It was 1936 and Adolf Hitler’s cacaphony of Aryan superiority was growing louder by the minute and the Olympics in Berlin were to give him the best chance to not only say it but show it to the world. In a spectacle that would have the world’s attention, Hitler wanted his German athletes to prove what he had been asking the world to believe and what would soon become the basis of his extermination of the Jews.

But Jesse Owens was scripting a tale of his own on the other side of the Atlantic and when he arrived at Berlin, he did what many had failed to do. He left a huge dent on the pride of the German dictator. 

Jesse Owens ran like a dream in Berlin and left the world in awe to emerge as the most successful athlete of the 1936 Games. Owens also became the first American to win four track and field gold medals at a single Olympics (100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump), a record that stood unbroken for 48 years.

Although, there still remain doubts whether Hitler refused to shake Owens’ hands after his win, one thing is for sure that he shattered the myth that Hitler was propagating.

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