Frank Amyot and the Berlin Olympics

8 August 1936

When the International Olympic Committee selected Berlin over Barcelona in 1931 as the host city for the Summer games of the 11th modern Olympiad to be held in 1936, nobody expected that Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers’ Party, a.k.a. the Nazis, would then be in power. The Olympiad was to have been a public demonstration of the return of Germany into the fold of civilization nations—the Great War and its atrocities for which Germany and its ally Austria-Hungary were held responsible now relegated to history. Instead, the Games became an opportunity for the Nazis, who had just remilitarized the Rhineland a few months earlier, to show off Germany’s new political and military vigour. More ominously, it was also an opportunity for the Nazis to demonstrate their warped racial belief in the supremacy of the so-called “Aryan” race, with the blond, blue-eyed Nordic subtype at the pinnacle, the so-called master race (the Herrenvolk).

1930s olympics

Arrival of the Olympic Torch, Berlin, August 1936, Illinois Holocaust Museum

By this time, the Nazis had already put into effect their “Blood laws” which among other things made it illegal for an “Aryan” German to marry a Jew or even to have a romantic affair with a Jew. German Jews were also stripped of their legal rights and were banned from many occupations and activities, including their participation in German sporting clubs. Also, under harsh eugenic laws, those deemed “life, unworthy of life,” which included the mentally handicapped, sufferers of hereditary disorders and severe physical handicaps, and homosexuals, were sterilized, or worse, killed. The purpose was to improve the German gene pool. The corollary of this was the encouragement of those of pure Aryan stock to breed. Girls deemed racially pure were essentially turned into brood mares in SS-run stud farms—the Lebensborn e.V.

Needless to say, given the Nazis’ growing oppression, especially of Jews, Germany’s hosting of the Olympic Games was controversial. Owing to pressure from the International Olympic Committee and the United States, Hitler allowed Jews to participate in the Games. The German sporting federation included a token Jew on the German Olympic summer team—26-year old Helene Meyer who later gave the Nazi salute when she won the silver medal for women’s fencing. Meyer had left Nazi Germany in 1935 to settle in the United States but returned temporarily to Germany for the Summer Games.

This tokenism was enough for the IOC to close its eyes to what was going on in Germany. In April 1936, the President of the IOC, Count Henri de Baillet-Letour, said the Winter Olympics, which were also held in Germany, had been a great success and that there been many Jewish athletes including on Germany’s team. He said: “The Nazi question has no connection with sports at the Olympic Games.” Some countries and athletes were not convinced, and a “Peoples’ Olympiad” was organized for late July in Barcelona, just days prior to the start of the official Olympic Summer Games in Berlin. However, as athletes from 22 countries, including the Soviet Union, which did not participate in the official Olympic Games at that time, assembled in Barcelona, the Spanish Civil War began. The Peoples’ Olympiad was cancelled.

Despite concerns about Hitler’s Germany, almost 4,000 athletes from 49 countries and territories participated in the Summer Games held during the first two weeks of August 1939 in Berlin. Germany pulled out all the stops, shelling out millions for a huge new stadium and an athletes’ village. The games were the first to be broadcast live over television though few people had sets to watch them. Anti-Jewish signs were temporarily removed for the occasion. The Nazis’ aim was to impress and reassure the tens of thousands of foreign visitors. They were going to present to the world the allusion that Germany was an open, tolerant society. The games were a propaganda coup, and were recorded for posterity by Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favourite film maker.

The opening parade of nations was a cause of angst for many of the athletes. Should they give the Nazi salute to honour Hitler, or not? Some apparently opted for the Olympic salute which was similar. The Olympic salute is made by holding the right arm straight with the hand outstretched with the fingers together. The arm is held high and at an angle to the right from the shoulder. To make the Nazi salute, one raises the arm straight forward. Both are variants of the ancient Roman salute. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of confusion.

News reports immediately after the opening ceremonies claimed that the Canadian team gave the Nazi salute, which won them an enthusiastic response from the predominantly German audience. Later reports suggested that the Canadians had actually given a “half-Nazi salute” or the Olympic salute, with an “eyes right.” However, this may have been just after-the-fact revisionism to avoid embarrassment. The Chairman of the Canadian Olympic team claimed “It wasn’t actually the Nazi salute…The outstretched right hands of the Canadians pointed skyward rather than forward. It was merely a salute toward Herr Hitler.” Other teams left no confusion. The British and Australian teams made only an “eyes right,” while the American team held their hats over their hearts while giving an “eyes right.” Given its close similarity to the Nazi salute, the Olympic salute was abandoned in 1948.

Canada sent 97 competitors to Berlin—79 men and 18 women, competing in 69 events in 12 sports. The team’s performance was disappointing. It garnered only nine medals—one gold, three silver and five bronze, and ranked 17th among participating nations. (This was better, however, than the lone silver medal for ice hockey that Canada won in the 1936 Winter Games.) Canada’s only gold medalist at the Summer Games was Ottawa’s Frank Amyot who won the men’s C-1 1,000 metre, single-man sprint canoe race held at the regatta course at Grünau on the Langer See situated on the south-east outskirts of Berlin.

Frank Amyot, 1936 PA-050285

Frank Amyot, Olympic Gold Medalist, 1,000 Metre Sprint Canoe, Berlin 1936, Library and Archives Canada, PA-050285.

Amyot had been the favourite to win the event. The 32-year old was a veteran canoer, and six times the Canadian Canoe Association’s Senior Singles Champion. He won his first title in 1923 while rowing for the Rideau Canoe Club. He later competed for the Britannia Boating Club. As the most senior and experienced member of the eight-man paddling team selected to represent Canada in the Olympics, Amyot was chosen as the team’s captain and coach. The other members of the team included Gordon Potter, F. Dier, Stan Potter, and Frank Wills from the Gananoque Canoe Club and Bill Williamson, Harvey Charters and Warren Saker from the Balmy Beach Club, Toronto. Charters and Saker also went on to win medals at the regatta course at Grünau, capturing the silver medal in the men’s C-2 10,000 metres, two-man sprint canoe competition and the bronze medal in the men’s C-2 1,000 metres, two-man sprint canoe race.

Despite Amyot’s standing in the sport, the Canadian Olympic Committee did not contribute a penny towards his travel expenses to Germany. Indeed, the Canadian Olympic Committee initially refused to fund any of Canada’s paddlers, though it later coughed up a token $65 to each of the three Toronto-based canoeists following protests. The other paddlers were ignored. The reason is unclear. True, money was tight that year. The Depression was still underway. The federal government had provided only $10,000 to the Canadian Olympic Committee to help fund Canada’s participation in both the Winter and Summer Games. But one would have thought that some dollars would have been allocated to cover Amyot’s expenses as he was widely regarded as Canada’s best chance to win a gold medal. The Canadian Olympic Committee also had the gall to charge Amyot $8 for his white-trimmed, crimson Canadian team blazer; Amyot refused to pay.

To help cover travel expenses, estimated at about $500 for each of the eight-man paddling team, the Canadian Canoe Association contributed $800. The remaining funds had to be arranged privately. The Britannia Boat Club organized a fundraiser for Frank Amyot, including selling reproduction prints of the painting “The Bluenose” at $1 per copy, with the proceeds to be given to the canoer. A professional tennis tournament held at Ottawa’s Auditorium in April 1936 also turned over part of the gate to the Britannia Boat Club to help cover Amyot’s costs. The Army and Navy Veterans’ Association, for which Amyot worked, also provide considerable financing for his journey.

With the support of friends, family, and community, Canada’s Olympic team, including the eight paddlers, set sail in mid-July from Montreal to Le Havre in France on the SS Duchess of Bedford. The team spent a day in Paris sightseeing before taking a train for Berlin.

Frank Amyot’s big race took place on 8 August 1936 at the Grünau regatta course. As there were only six contestants, there were no heats. According the Evening Citizen, Amyot’s performance was “acclaimed as one of the finest ever witnessed in Europe.” Using a borrowed boat, he won gold in a time of 5 minutes 32.1 seconds over the 1,000-metre course, almost five seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, Bohuslav Karlik of Czechoslovakia, who Amyot had passed 100 metres from the finish line. Erich Koschik of Germany took the bronze medal.

When Amyot arrived back at the dock, the other members of the paddling team boosted their victorious captain on their shoulders and carried him back to the boathouse to the cheers of fans. Later, he received congratulatory telegrams from Prime Minister Mackenzie King and Ottawa’s Mayor Stanley Lewis. In a letter to Captain Gilman, his boss at the Army and Navy Veterans’ Association, Amyot wrote: “I must confess it was a very proud moment for me when I stood on the pedestal and watched the Canadian flag hoisted above all the flags of the world and watched over a hundred thousand people of all nationalities stand at attention while they played ‘O Canada.’”

Amyot returned home a month later, sailing from Liverpool in England on the liner Montcalm to Montreal.  Arriving at Union Station in Ottawa after his journey, he was greeted by cheering fans, civil officials, including Mayor Lewis, Commodore F. Skuce of the Britannia Boating Club and fellow paddlers. Also at the train platform were members of his family, including Bungo, his black and tan Gordon setter who almost knocked his master over in an enthusiastic welcome. The band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the Ottawa Boys’ Band played “The Conquering Hero Comes.” Amyot was escorted to his home at 52 Maclaren by a parade and motorcycle outriders.

A few days later, he was feted at a gala celebration at the Chatêau Laurier Hotel by more than 250 sportsmen and government dignitaries. Amyot entered the ballroom dressed in his Canadian Olympic uniform of crimson and white to the strains of “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here.”

Amyot gratefully thanked all those who made his trip to Germany possible, and presented an oak tree that had been given to him in Germany to Mayor Lewis. The Mayor accepted the gift voicing his hope that the tree “would grow as straight, strong and clean as its donor.” In return, Mayor Lewis presented Amyot with a Royal Bank passbook containing more than $1,000 (worth more than $18,000 in today’s money), the proceeds of a community-wide collection. Amyot expressed his gratitude and appreciation for the gift. Already a life-time member of the Britannia Boating Club, the sportsman was also made a lifetime member of eleven different boat and canoe clubs.

Frank Amyot, a member of Canada’s Olympic Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, died of cancer in 1962. A photograph of Amyot and his trophies graces the stairwell of the Britannia Yacht Club in Ottawa.

 

Sources:

Calgary Herald, 1936. “Canada Wins Canoe Event At Olympics, 8 August.

——————-, 1936. “Sport-O-Scope,” 15 August.

Leader-Post, 1936. “Canadians In Nazi Salute At Stadium, 1 August.

————–, 1936. “Only Half-Nazi Salute by Canadians at Berlin,” 4 August.

Macleans Magazine, 1936. “What Happened at Berlin,” 1 October.

O’Malley, JP, 2018, “How the Nazis’ token Jew turned the 1936 Berlin Olympics into a Propaganda win, The Times of Israel, 10 March, https://www.timesofisrael.com/how-the-nazis-token-jew-turned-the-1936-berlin-olympics-into-a-propaganda-win/.

Ottawa Evening Citizen, 1936. “Fred Brown Flag Officer,” 6 April.

—————————-, 1936. “Crossed Signals,” 4 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Frank Amyot Captures Olympic Title,” 10 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Short Shots On Sports,” 10 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Premier Congratulates Amyot On Victory,” 10 August.

—————————–, 1936. “Frank Amyot Acclaimed At Banquet,” 10 September.

—————————–, 1947. “May Discontinue Olympic Salute,” 16 June.

Ottawa Journal, 1936. “Worthy Representative,” 24 April.

——————-, 1936. “Assures Germany Olympic Games,” 24 April.

——————-, 1936. “Frank Amyot Is Chosen Olympic Team Manager,” 11 May.

——————-, 1936. “Campaign For Frank Amyot,” 1 June.

——————-, 1936. “Will Inquire Why Sculler Pays Own Way,” 6 July.

——————-, 1936, “Further Appeal For Frank Amyot,” 8 July.

——————-, 1936. “Paddling Official Voices Complaint,” 17 July.

——————-, 1936. “Frank Amyot Describes Scene When He Won Paddling Title,” 6 August.

——————-, 1936. “Crowd Gives Frank Amyot Big Ovation,” 7 September.

——————-, 1936. “Frank Amyot, Olympic Star, Is Given Ovation At Banquet,”10 September.

Province, 1936. “Canadian Athletes At Le Havre on Saturday,” 24 July.

United States Holocaust Museum, 2019. The Nazi Olympics, Berlin 1936, https://www.ushmm.org/exhibition/olympics/?content=august_1936&lang=en.

Victoria Daily Times, 1936. “Elect New Gyro Board,” 15 September.

Windsor Star, 1936. “Eyes Right,” 25 July.

—————-, 1936. “Nasty Row In Nazi Salute,” 5 August.

—————-, 1936. “Canuck Win Is Ironical,” 10 August.

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Canada’s Sweetheart

9 March 1948

The Fifth Olympic Winter Games began in late January 1948 in the small, Swiss alpine village of St Moritz. It was the first Olympic Games since World War II. The first post-war Summer Olympic Games were to be held later that year in London. The previous Winter Games had been held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Nazi Germany in 1936. St Moritz was selected to host the 1948 Games partly because it was located in neutral Switzerland, and partly because it already had the sports infrastructure in place, having hosted the 1928 Winter Games; economy was an important consideration during the immediate post-war years. Twenty-eight countries participated in twenty-two events. Germany and Japan were not invited, while the Soviet Union participated only as an observer. All events took place outdoors. The centre of attention was Canada’s Barbara Ann Scott. Three weeks earlier, the nineteen-year-old native of Sandy Hill, had successfully defended her European Figure Skating crown in Prague, Czechoslovakia. There, Scott had been lionized, with thousands clamoring for her photograph and autograph. Prague newspapers vied daily for the best pictures of the talented and charming, blond beauty.

The media buzz continued in St Moritz. Time Magazine featured Scott on its cover for the first week of February 1948 with a lengthy write-up on her and her prospects at the Olympics. The Canadian Press dubbed the St Moritz Olympics the “Barbara Ann Scott Olympics.” On the afternoon of 6 February, Scott did what everybody had been expecting, easily winning the gold medal with 163.077 points over her rival Eva Pawlik of Austria (157.588 points) who had also been runner-up to Scott in the European championships. In third position was Jeanette Attwegg of the United Kingdom (156.166 points).  Scott beat her opponents in both the compulsory figures and the free skating components of the competition. Her superb free-skating performance, despite poor ice conditions owing to warm weather and an earlier hockey game, brought the crowd to their feet. (Rare colour film footage of Scott’s performance is available on YouTube; see sources.)

Barbara Ann Scott

Barbara Ann Scott being greeted by Mayor Stanley Lewis and Prime Minister Mackenzie on her arrival home, Union Station, Ottawa, 9 March 1948, City of Ottawa Archives, CA024868/Newton.

That evening, the headline in The Evening Citizen said it all: “Our Barbara Wins It!” Ottawa went wild with excitement. Plans were set in motion for a huge celebration on her arrival home. Congratulatory messages poured in to Scott from across the country. Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s message read: “From one end of Canada to the other there is great rejoicing at your victory and of the high honour you have brought to yourself and your country. The government joins with the people in extending warm congratulations to you. All are delighted beyond words.” Ottawa’s Mayor Stanley Lewis’ message said: “Ottawa is a city in of rejoicing and triumph. All feel great pride in your victory and honour you for your sportsmanship, your hard work, your genius.”

Ten days later, Scott did it again, winning the World Women’s Figure Skating crown in Davos, Switzerland for the second successive year. Once again, she beat out Eva Pawlik to first place on the podium. It was the first and only time that a Canadian skater had simultaneously held the European, Olympic and World skating titles.

Success did not come overnight for the young Canadian skater. Practising at the Minto Skating Club, Scott quit school at a young age, and was tutored privately so that she could train for seven to eight hours each day. She first came to national prominence when she was the silver medalist in the 1941 and 1942 Senior Canadian Figure Skating championships.  In 1944, at the tender age of fifteen, she won gold, the first of four national championships. The following year, she captured the North American title, and again in 1947. Also in 1947, she placed first at both the European and World Figure Skating Championships. Many compared her to the great Sonja Henie of Norway who was the undisputed queen of ladies’ figure skating prior to the war.

Scott’s chance to add an Olympic title to her string of victories was almost dashed on her return home from the 1947 World Championship when she accepted a canary-yellow Buick convertible with the licence plate 47U1 from the City of Ottawa. Although the Canadian Ice Skating Association had approved the gift, telling Scott that it would not compromise here amateur status, and hence her chance to compete at the following year’s Olympic Games, the U.S. Olympic President, Avery Brundage, complained to the Olympics’ international body that she was in breach of Rule 3 of the Olympic Code—“Participants who have received money, presents or advantage of material character shall not be admitted to the Olympic Games.” He also claimed that Scott had accepted jewellery, and was considering a Hollywood contract. Scott denied these latter charges, and, reluctantly, gave back the car, saying that “It would be selfish of me to keep the car and lose the chance to bring honour to Canada.” The suspicion was that Brundage was trying to improve the chances at the St Moritz Olympics of U.S. skater Gretchen Merrill who had placed third at the 1947 World Championship.

Scott arrived home from her Olympic, World and European victories on 9 March 1948 to a hero’s welcome. As her train stopped in small towns along the line from Montreal, she was applauded by enthusiastic crowds. At Lachute, thousands waited at the station for her train’s seven-minute station stop, and sang “For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow.” Finally, at 12.40pm, Scott’s train pulled in the capital. The Ottawa Journal reported that she “had changed means of transport to ride a tidal wave of acclaim.” Union Station in downtown Ottawa was packed with adoring fans, with thousands waiting several deep outside on the city sidewalks. It was reported that 70,000 people jammed Confederation Square close to the station, even more than on V-E Day in May 1945. School children were given a half day holiday to greet their idol, while government bosses looked the other way as civil servants deserted their offices.

When Scott got off of the train, the cheering crowds began singing “Let me call you Sweetheart.” Prime Minister King and Mayor Lewis greeted the skating queen with kisses and a big bouquet of roses, with Scott hugging and kissing them both in return. Dressed in a black velveteen outfit and a beaver coat, Scott made her way with difficulty through the crush of fans to an open, black limousine covered in daffodils for a tickertape parade through the flag-draped, city streets, accompanied by sixteen RCMP motorcycle escorts. The bands of Governor General’s Foot Guards, the RCAF, and the Ottawa Technical School played the tunes to which Scot had skated to victory at St Moritz and Davos. Banners strung across the city streets read “Canada Greets You—Bienvenue” and “Welcome Home, Barbara Ann–Champion of Champions.” At a city reception that followed, Mayor Lewis told Scott that “Today, Ottawa is yours.” For her part, Barbara Ann Scott thanked everyone saying” I’ve been in many wonderful cities of Europe this winter but the greatest thrill of all was to come back to Ottawa and hear the band play O Canada at the station.” She thanked her mother, her trainer, Sheldon Galbraith, and gave a special word of appreciation to the Minto Skating Club.

Barbara Ann Scott greets fans

Barbara Ann Scott waves to her fans outside Union Station, Ottawa, 9 March 1948, City of Ottawa Archives, CA024867/Newton.

The City of Ottawa later presented Scott with another new car with the licence plate 48U1. This time, as she had retired from the amateur ranks, she gratefully accepted it. In December 1948, she embarked on a professional career, debuting at the Roxy Theater in New York City. In 1951, she joined Arthur M. Wirtz’s “Hollywood Ice Review,” replacing Sonja Henie. The big Christmas gift in 1950 for little girls was the “Barbara Ann Scott” doll which sold in major department stores for $5.95 (equivalent to more than $60 in today’s money). Sixteen inches tall, the blond doll, which wore tiny silver ice skates, and had movable arms, leg, and head, was dressed in white velvet trimmed with fur. In April 1955, Scott appeared with her dog Pierre as the mystery guest on the famous CBS television programme What’s My Line.

Scott’s professional career ended in 1955 when she married Tom V. King, an ex-Marine and ex-professional basket-ball player, who was a publicist for the Chicago Stadium Sports Enterprises and Wirtz’s ice show. The couple settled in Chicago where Scott adopted the traditional 1950s lifestyle. One newspaper reported that “Barbara Ann Scott, now Mrs Tom King, is a housewife, as pretty a homemaker as one can imagine, and she loves cooking, sewing and dusting.” For her part, Scott said “I believe wives should look after their husbands or else don’t get married. I do all his personal laundry by hand. I keep his dresser drawers tidy. I don’t think a husband should have to worry about picking up his own clothes, or shining his razor after he uses it.” However, she still remained active outside of the home, operating for a time a beauty salon in Glencoe, Illinois. She also did commercials and directed theatre. She also became an accomplished equestrian.

During her lifetime, Scott was the recipient of many awards and honours. She won the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s outstanding sport star for 1945, 1947, and 1948, and the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada’s top female athlete for 1946, 1947, and 1948. A member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1991, and was given the Order of Ontario in 2008. Barbara Ann Scott passed away at her home in Florida in 2012 at the age of 84. Shortly before her death, she left her Olympic gold medal and other memorabilia to the City of Ottawa which houses them in the Barbara Ann Scott Gallery located at Ottawa City Hall on Laurier Street.

Sources: Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, 2015, Honoured Member Stores – Barbara Ann Scott, http://www.sportshall.ca/stories.html?proID=227&catID=all.

City of Ottawa, Barbara Ann Scott Gallery, http://ottawa.ca/en/liveculture/barbara-ann-scott-gallery.

Floskate, 2009. 1948 Winter Olympics Figure Skating – Dick Button and Barbara Ann Scott, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46bHRVndot0.

The Milwaukee Journal, 1948. “Ottawa Puts on Big Show for Barbara Ann Scott,” 10 March. The Milwaukee Sentinel, 1958. “Whatever Happened To Barbara Ann Scott?” 12 April.

The Montreal Gazette, 1948. “Barbara Ann Scott’s Car To Be Returned.” 7 May.

————————–, 1965. “Barbara Ann Scott Anniversary Today, 6 February.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1950. “Happy Home Life Is Career For Her,” 4 April.

———————–, 1950. “Barbara Ann Scott Doll,” 1 December.

———————–, 1980. “Barbara Ann Scott recalls thrill of Olympics,” 12 February. The Ottawa Journal, 1948. “Ottawa All Out For ‘B.A.-Day,’” 9 March.

————————, 1948. “All Along Line Thousands Cheer,” 9 March.

Skate Canada. 2015. “History and Milestones,” http://www.skatecanada.ca/about-us/history-milestones/.

The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), 1959. “Barbara Ann Scott Prefers Being Housewife to Stardom,” 5 April.

Wikipedia, 2015. “Barbara Ann Scott,” http://www.sportshall.ca/stories.html?proID=227&catID=all.

What’s My Line, 2013. YouTube, 17 April, 1955, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sis3jlplL50.

Images: Barbara Ann Scott greeted by Mayor Stanley Lewis and Prime Minister Mackenzie at Union Station, 9 March 1948, City of Ottawa Archives, CA024868/Newton.

Barbara Ann Scott Greets Her Fans, Union Station, 9 March 1948, City of Ottawa Archives, CA024867/Newton.