1936 Women's Olympic Track and Field Review

Helen Stephens prepares to break the tape to win the Olympic 100-meter final in 1936. Allsport/HultonArchive/Getty Images

Women’s track and field athletes at the 1936 Olympics competed in the same six events as they did at the 1932 Games. In the final pre-World War II Olympics, held in Berlin, the host Germans scored two gold, two silver and three bronze medals, while American women won two events.

100 Meters

American Helen Stephens made an early mark on the women’s 100-meter competition by winning the second quarterfinal heat in 11.4 seconds.

Her time was inside the existing world record, but the 2.9 meters-per-second tailwind made her time ineligible for world record consideration. She topped the world mark a second time, winning her semifinal in 11.5 seconds, but the 2.4 mps wind again prevented her from rewriting the record books. The consistent Stephens then ran 11.5 in the final, supported by a 3.5 mps wind. Again, she missed out on a world mark, but did earn the Olympic gold medal. Stanislawa Walasiewicz – the 1932 gold medalist, raised the U.S. but again running for her native Poland – placed second, while Germany’s Kathe Krauss was third.

Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics

80-Meter Hurdles

American Simone Schaller and Great Britain’s Violet Webb were the fastest women in the 80-meter hurdles heats, at 11.8 seconds apiece. Unusually, however, neither woman qualified for the final, as Webb finished fifth in the first semifinal (only the top three qualified for the final), while Schaller placed fourth in second semi.

Italy’s Ondina Valla was the quickest semifinalist, finishing in a wind-aided 11.6 seconds. Valla then out-leaned three competitors to win the final, in which all four women were credited with an official time of 11.7. After officials perused photos of the finish, Germany’s Anni Steuer was awarded the silver medal, while Canada’s Betty Taylor gained the bronze.

4 x 100-Meter Relay

Germany was favored to win the lone women’s relay, and demonstrated its ability by breaking the world record in the second qualifying heat, winning the race in 46.4 seconds. The United States won the opening heat in 47.1. The Germans led through three legs of the final, but a baton mishap on the last leg eliminated them from the competition. The Americans took advantage of the mistake to take the gold medal, crossing the line in 46.9 seconds. Great Britain was second and Canada took third. Harriet Bland ran the opening leg for the U.S., followed by Annette Rogers, the only holdover from the victorious American 4 x 100 team from the 1932 Olympics. Stephens ran the anchor leg to earn her second gold medal of the Games. But the big story for the U.S. was Betty Robinson, the 1928 gold medalist in the straight 100. Robinson was seriously injured in a 1931 plane crash and could no longer crouch for the 100-meter start. But she could still sprint, and gained her second Olympic gold medal by running the third leg of the 4 x 100 relay.

High Jump

Just three of the 17 high jump competitors cleared 1.60 meters (5 feet, 3 inches). Great Britain’s Dorothy Odam was the only one to do so on her first attempt, and under modern countback rules would have won the gold medal.

Under the 1936 rules, however, the three women had to compete in a jump-off, after none could clear the next height. In the jump-off, Odam again topped 1.60, but it was only good for a silver medal, as Hungary’s Ibolya Csak cleared 1.62/5-3¾. Germany’s Elfriede Kaun took the silver medal.

Discus Throw

Thirteen throwers were eliminated after three rounds, leaving the top six with three additional throws apiece. However, the medals had already been decided in the first round. Reigning world record holder Gisela Mauermayer of Germany unleashed an opening-round throw measuring 47.63/156-3, which stood up to earn the gold medal. Jadwiga Wajs of Poland – the 1932 bronze medalist – and Germany’s Paula Mollenhauer stood in second and third places, respectively, after the first round. Although both improved in later rounds, the medal standings remained the same throughout the competition.

Javelin

As in the discus, all but six women – from a field of 14 – were eliminated after three rounds of the javelin. Entering round four, 1932 bronze medalist Tilly Fleischer led, followed by fellow German Luise Kruger and Poland’s Maria Kwasniewska. Only Fleischer improved in the final three rounds, taking the gold with a throw of 45.18/148-2 in round five. Kruger and Kwasniewska held on to the silver and bronze medals, respectively.

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