Winning Olympic Gold at any cost?

The Olympics used to be the Cold War played out on sporting fields and in swimming pools. And nobody played better, or perhaps as unfairly, as the East Germans.

The Olympic Games really do have it all: excitement, history, a grand stage. Dozens of countries represented by hundreds of athletes giving their all in the simple quest to win.

Unfortunately, the Games have not always been about pure sport. They've been marred more than once by politics and even outright tragedy. In 1936, the Summer Olympics were held in Berlin under the watchful eye of Adolf Hitler who, by all accounts, was eager to use this platform to advocate his theory about the "master race." (The Games were awarded to Germany in 1931, before Hitler and the Nazis came into power.) Just about everyone knows how Jesse Owens helped spoil the Nazis' party by winning four gold medals for the United States. Fewer people are aware, however, that American sprinters Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman, the only two Jews on the U.S. Olympic squad, were mysteriously removed from the 4x100-meter relay team on the very day they were supposed to compete. Some have speculated that U.S. Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage didn't want to "embarrass" Hitler by having Jews win gold medals.

The 1972 Games, held in Munich, will always be remembered for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists. In 1980, the United States led a boycott of the Summer Olympics, held in Moscow, to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Tit for tat, the Soviets led a boycott of the 1984 games, held in Los Angeles.

The Cold War was also an important backdrop to the 1976 Montreal Olympics. East Germany came away from those games with 90 medals, 40 of them gold. Not bad for a nation of just 17 million people. So, how did the East Germans do it? Take a look at this 1977 investigation into the East German sports machine by Mike Wallace. Tell us what you think: were the East German athletes just better? Or, did they cheat?

  • Reid Collins Jr.

60 Minutes App

New Look. New Season. The 60 Minutes app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch!

More 60 minutes Overtime

Comments