In the 87 years that have passed since the 1936 Summer Olympics, Berlin still resounds with the voices, the footsteps of history’s greatest. From the 2006 FIFA World Cup final to many a night with The Rolling Stones, the grounds are magnetic, attracting talent from across the world. The 1936 Summer Olympics saw the likes of Jesse Owens, who would become the first American track and field athlete to win four gold medals in a single Olympic Games. Between the moments that would define the greatest athletes in the world, the crowd in attendance was entertained by performance troupes.
“Their entertainment would be exhibitions from various groups, one of which was a huge gymnastics troupe,” explained Wolfgang Winter, father to Special Olympics USA athletics athlete Gretchen Winter. “They performed a gymnastics exhibition in front of the crowd. My dad was one of the gymnasts.”
Gretchen’s grandfather, affectionately referred to as Opa, performed in the exhibitions hosted at Olympiapark. A German native, Opa’s athleticism would span generations, extending all the way to the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023. Gretchen has been drawn to the magnetic energy of Berlin beginning with Opening Ceremony at Olympiastadion, before returning to where her grandfather stood so many years ago for competition.
“She had mentioned that one of the reasons she wants to do well is to preserve the family legacy, so that’s pretty exciting,” said Wolfgang.
Now residents of Palmer, Alaska, Wolfgang reminds his daughter of their roots, deeply rooted in Germany. The Winter family has returned to their home country in celebration of Gretchen’s selection to represent Special Olympics USA. They will reunite with relatives, savor familiar foods and embrace nostalgia.
“My dad was born in a small town, Weiße Stadt, or in English, White City,” said Gretchen. “I’m actually staying with my family for another week after the event.”
For Gretchen, the very essence of Berlin is hallowed. Spotlight on Special Olympics USA, for Opening Ceremony, she will march into the stadium amidst a congregation of athletes. Mirroring the very steps her grandfather took nearly a century ago, she will stand for her country and her legacy.
“Back in the day, they sold these postcards that had different scenes,” described Wolfgang. “We have a series of postcards of the 1936 Summer Olympics and one of them shows this huge gymnastic troupe. We joke that Gretchen’s grandfather is the 22nd gymnast in the 37th row.”
Gretchen’s presence at the Opening Ceremony for the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin will be captured in a similar light. Athlete by athlete, they will fill the seats of Olympiastadion Berlin. Sporting their country’s colors, they will embody legacies of all colors.