The 1936 Olympic Winter Games were held in the twin Bavarian towns of Garmisch and Partenkirchen in Germany. Adolf Hitler opened the Games, as he would do at the Berlin Summer Games six months later. Despite the grim presence of Nazi troops and heavy rain, the event was a popular success, with 500,000 spectators attending. European nations dominated the competitions, with Norway leading the medal table with seven gold.
Until 1936, only Nordic skiing events – cross-country skiing – had been held at the Games. Here, alpine skiing events, such as the downhill and slalom, were included for the first time. Problems occurred when the IOC, overruling the International Ski Federation (FIS), declared that ski instructors could not take part in the Olympics because they were professionals. Infuriated, the strong Austrian and Swiss skiers boycotted the Games.
Sonja Henie, the Norwegian figure skating queen, won her third consecutive gold medal to confirm her standing as the leading star of the Winter Games. In the men’s event, Austria’s Karl Schafer won his second successive gold. Speed skater Ivan Ballangrud of Norway won three of the four races, including the 500m, the shortest race, and the 10,000m, the longest. Canada’s champion ice hockey team suffered their first Olympic loss after 20 consecutive wins, losing their semi-final 2-1 to Great Britain. Ten of the 12 British players lived in Canada.
With the world gripped by war and its terrible aftermath for much of the next decade, the Winter Games would not resume until 1948.
Australia at these Games
Australia participated for the first time at an Olympic Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, with one athlete competing. Kenneth Kennedy was Australia’s sole Olympian. He competed in three speed skating events. He was 29th in the 500m and placed 33rd in both the 1500m and the 5000m.
Kennedy enjoyed a successful sporting career. While living in England, he won both the 880 yard and one mile British speed skating titles in 1935 and 1936, and also played competitive ice hockey. He returned to Australia after World War II, represented New South Wales at ice hockey and became the president of the Australian Ice Hockey Association.
There was, however, another Australian competing at the 1936 Games. Freddie McEvoy, a playboy and pal of Errol Flynn, represented Great Britain. He carried the British flag in the Opening Ceremony, then captained the four-man bobsleigh team to a bronze medal. He also raced in the two-man bobsleigh event. As such, he is the first Australian to win an Winter Olympics medal – albeit not for Australia.
Since its 1936 debut, Australia has sent a Winter Olympic Team to every Games except for the St. Moritz 1948 Games.