2008 Olympics Protest: German Equestrians, Mindful of History, Will Gallop On

Argentinian show jumping rider Gregorio Werthein carried the Olympic torch through Buenos Aires yesterday. (Reuters.com photo)

Germany has decided that it will continue with plans to compete in a multitude of sports at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, in spite of pressure to withdraw in protest against Chinese oppression of Tibetan human rights.

But German athletes are among the most outspoken on their distaste for Chinese politics. The German water polo team has announced plans to wear bright orange terry-cloth robes poolside, evoking the orange prayer robes of Buddhist monks protesting in Tibet. German pole vaulter Anna Battke is planning a protest during the opening ceremony, according to the Germany newsmagazine Der Spiegel. She is urging athletes to participate in the ceremony dressed either as monks or Chinese government officials. At some point in the ceremony, athletes representing the two groups would simultaneously bow and shake hands, symbolizing peace between them.

The cover of this week’s Der Spiegel (similar to our Time magazine), shows the Olympic rings but, if you look closely, the rings are actually handcuffs.

As always, it pays to take a spin around the web to some of the foreign-based news web sites that have English versions. You will certainly see a different spin on the news from what you will hear and see on the US television news. On the AsiaOne website you will read: “I have considered whether I can compete in China under these conditions,” attributed to German show jumper Ludger Beerbaum.

Germany is perhaps the birthplace of the political Olympics, going back to Adolph Hitler’s controversial hosting of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. US participation in those games were hotly protested by Jewish Americans who were outraged by the persecution of Jews under the Nazis. Germany did not allow Jewish athletes to represent their country and Hitler did not recognize African-American Jesse Owens’ remarkable feat of winning four gold medals.

In the equestrian events in 1936, Germany won team and individual gold medals in all the sports; the Spanish Riding School’s Alois Podhajsky won the bronze medal in dressage for Austria. Horses with the Trakehner brand won six gold medals.

It’s sad to look at the medal standings from 1936: once-great horse nations Poland, Hungary and Romania were up there in the medals. Poland won the silver in eventing ahead of Great Britain!

At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, politics and sport made deadly contact when Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.

On the bright side, it was the sport of table tennis and its international competition scene that initially brought China out of its withdrawal from the world stage back in the 1970s. One thing led to another, and now China is the most dominant force in international commerce.

So, it looks like the show will go on for the Germans in Hong Kong. German riders are among the favorites in all three Olympic equestrian disciplines. And most of the rest of the world will be riding German-bred horses. They have nothing to protest there. But watch for a strong German will to win in the eventing, as the Germans were disqualified and stripped of their gold medals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens when Bettina Hoy crossed the start line twice in the show jumping phase. An insightful article about Bettina’s ongoing resentment can be read on the Reuters Olympics web site.




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