What is sport really, other than a battle of strengths in the service of your country?
These words from Eckart Hans von Tschammer und Osten, Germany’s “sport leader” from 1933 to 1943, perfectly characterise the role of sport in the Third Reich. Reverence for the human body was an integral part of Nazi ideology, and the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin under Hitler’s leadership were intended to showcase Germany’s supremacy and its current policies. In Hitler’s Champions, Benoît Heimermann explores the stories of these emblematic German sportsmen, including Lutz Lang, the unlucky adversary to Jesse Owens and one of the most telling figures. While a long term political and ideological battle was being fought in the background, the black-American athlete won four medals at the 1936 games. Beyond its symbolic significance, this example illustrates a more general fate that awaited the athletes who had been hand-crafted by the German regime and would fall apart one after the other.
These portraits give another perspective of the Nazi regime. As defined by von Tschammer und Osten, sport is unequivocal; his is useful kind of sport, coded, exploited, spearheading an ideology little inclined to promote the weak or the unconvinced.
Benoît Heimermann has been a special correspondent for L’Équipe Magazine for more than twenty years. He has written some fifteen books (Tabarly, L’Aéropostale, Ils ont écrit le Tour de France…) and contributed to half a dozen television documentaries (Maradona, un gamin en or, La Légende du Tour de France…). He is chairman of the French Association of Sports Writers.