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#RespectReplay: The Medals of Friendship

The story of one of the Olympics’ most unique artifacts

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September 21, 2018

The 1936 Olympics—held in Berlin, Germany, during the height of the Nazi regime—is best remembered as a political event. And for good reason. This was the Olympiad where African-American Jesse Owens, the 10th and youngest child of an Alabama sharecropper, won four gold medals right under the nose of Hitler. Owens at once became the most successful athlete at the Olympics while symbolically becoming something even greater: a powerful affront to the host nation’s fascist and racist policies at the dawn of WW2.

Another competitor dropped out, failing to clear the bar for silver. However, two Japanese competitors, Shuhei Nishida (front) and Sueo Oe, successfully attempted the jump. Oe and Nishida were friends, college students and competitors. Despite the mandate that Nishida and Oe, the two remaining athletes, needed to compete in a jump-off to decide who got silver and who got bronze, the friends refused. This was no good to the Olympic officials, so they asked Japan's Olympic team to decide who received which medal.

 

The Japanese delegation decided that, since Nishida had cleared 4m25cm in only one attempt—it took Oe two—that he should be the one who gets the silver. However, what was good for the Japanese Olympic team wasn’t good enough for the friends. Once they got back to Japan, they split the medals in half and soldered them back together to make two half-silver, half-bronze hybrids.

 

The medals became known as “the medals of friendship,” and one of them is held at Waseda University in Tokyo as a monument to eternal sportsmanship.