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Berlin 1936

Within the space of four years, the number of Olympic Games participants had tripled, along with the number of spectators (3,769,892). The Games were broadcast in 28 "television lounges" in Greater Berlin, Leipzig and Potsdam. OMEGA supplied six times as many stopwatches as in Los Angeles.


Taking 185 stopwatches to Berlin in a suitcase

After a successful Olympic debut in Los Angeles, OMEGA was again appointed as Official Timekeeper of the Olympic Games four years later. In 1931, the IOC had decided for the last time that the Winter and Summer Games must be held in the same country. Garmisch- Partenkirchen and Berlin were awarded the Games at a time when the German Reich was still governed by Chancellor Heinrich Brüning. The German President was Paul von Beneckendorff und Hindenburg. Armed with 27 stopwatches and some good advice from his boss, young technician Paul-Louis Guignard travelled on 5 February 1936 to a different German Reich in order to look after and, if necessary, repair the watches in a workshop in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on a daily basis. The workshop was run by OMEGA’s German general representative, Ewald Narath, who performed the same task in Berlin a few months later.

On 18 July 1936, Guignard took 185 stopwatches to Berlin in a suitcase. His train journey from Basle to the capital of the Reich lasted 14 hours. In athletics, the starting pistol triggered the timing for each lane and the timekeepers pressed an electronic button at the finish line. They also used traditional stopwatches, however. Three stopwatches were used for each of the first three finishers, who were each also assigned three finishing-line judges. The fourth to sixth-placed athletes (it was before the days of eight lanes) each had just one timekeeper and one finishing-line judge. The Organising Committee was pleased with how the stopwatches worked. “They were the only stopwatches used in all the sports and they worked to the complete satisfaction of the international sports federations which were responsible for organising the competitions. The fact that no complaints were received says all that needs to be said about the quality of your watches,” wrote Carl Diem, Secretary General of the Organising Committee. The Olympic Games in Berlin were also a great success for the hosts. A record number of participants (4,066) competed in front of a record number of spectators (3,769,892) in some enormous sporting venues and Germany topped the medals table. Only one thing did not quite fit in with the political situation at the time: Jesse Owens, a black American, was the most successful athlete at the Games, winning four gold medals, and a crowd’s favourite to boot.

Guignard, who had just turned 29, returned to the southern foot of the Jura mountains a relieved but pensive man after witnessing this impressive propaganda show staged by the National Socialists. He devoted himself again to the development of photoelectronic timekeeping, which was soon to create a real stir in the sporting world after the end of the Second World War.


Adolph on Adolf: " I would have thrown him into the pool"

The good-looking boy from the USA was already a star before the Olympic Games in Berlin had even begun. A year earlier, he had appeared in Berlin during an extensive tour of Europe, setting a new world record time of 1:07.0 in the 100 m backstroke. The German Chancellor Adolf Hitler asked to meet him personally during his preparations. Maybe it was because the 18-year-old Adolph Kiefer (born 27 June 1918) had already set 17 world records, or perhaps it was because he shared the same first name, albeit spelled with a “ph” rather than an “f ”. Whatever the reason, Hitler was granted his wish and Kiefer asked him, through the interpreter, whether he could swim. Hitler said no and Kiefer responded, jokingly, “Then I’ll throw you into the pool.” He did not carry out his threat and soon regretted it.

“If I had known then what I know now, I would have thrown him in,” he famously said. Kiefer, who became the Olympic 100 m backstroke champion in front of 20,000 spectators at the enormous open-air swimming arena in the Reichssportfeld, had been deceived, just like many other athletes and officials.

Instead of accepting an offer to star as “Tarzan” in Hollywood, the Olympic champion, who only lost twice in more than 2,000 races and who remained the world record holder for 13 years, took up a career with the US Navy at the start of the Second World War. When the chief petty officer saw how many sailors were losing their lives at sea because they were poor swimmers, he was appointed a member of the US President’s Safety Committee, which finally issued new guidelines for rescue courses. By the end of the war, Kiefer had taught more than 33,000 navy swimming instructors. After the war, he founded his own ground-breaking sports equipment company, acted as an agent for OMEGA timing devices and built swimming pools in Chicago during the troubled 1960s in order to get disadvantaged children off the streets. He became particularly famous as the inventor of new floating lines, which became part of the history of sports equipment and were known as “Kiefer lines”. He still makes regular business trips to Europe. Finally, as a young man, he played up the fact that his mother and father had been born in Germany. He still swims for half an hour each day in his private swimming pool in Chicago and goes with his wife to work for the “Kiefer Group” every day.

Incidentally, anyone who telephones the Kiefer Group is greeted by a friendly recorded voice which reminds callers of Kiefer’s past sporting achievements: “You have reached Adolph Kiefer, the first man to swim 100 yards (91.44 m) in less than one minute.” He achieved this feat at the Illinois High School Championships in 1935.



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