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Fritz Schilgen made Olympic history – the final runner of the Olympic torch relay in Berlin 1936

2005-09-18

Fritz Schilgen on his way to the Olympic Stadium Berlin 1936
© Sportmuseum Berlin

Fritz Schilgen made Olympic history – the final runner of the Olympic torch relay in Berlin 1936

He hasn’t become 103 years old like his mother. Nevertheless Fritz Schilgen (born September 8th 1906) died at a biblical age as well: four days after his 99th birthday, in his birthplace Kronberg near Frankfurt (Main). On Monday, September 19th, he will be buried at the graveyard of this noble scene. Sure enough leading German sport personalities will also pay their last respect to Fritz Schilgen. After all, the electrical engineer made Olympic history, although he never participated at the Olympic Games.

The former German athletics president Dr. Karl Ritter von Halt made the suggestion to choose the three-time German 1,500 m champion (1929, 1931, 1933) as the last runner to bring the torch into the stadium and ignite the Olympic fire in the Olympic Stadium of Berlin on August 1st 1936. Over 3,000 runners participated in this first Olympic torch relay, conceived by Carl Diem. The torch was inflamed by a burning glass in old Olympia. 

3,187 k relay distance

Fritz Schilgen was on the last stretch of the 3,187 k long torch relay through Greece (1108 runners), Bulgaria (238), Yugoslavia (575), Hungary (386), Austria (219), Czech Republic (282) and Germany (267) at exactly 4 pm – as the planned schedule of the Berlin opening ceremony. He was cheered on by almost 100,000 spectators. But before he was chosen, he had to become accepted by three advisory boards. Fritz Schilgen was famous for his lovely running style. Among the aesthetics commission was Leni Riefenstahl, the director of the two Olympic movies “Festival of the beauty” and “Festival of the people”. They were award winning films but were also strongly obligated to the Nazi propaganda. In these movies, Fritz Schilgen’s 500 m run and the igniting of the Olympic fire became monumental. Many, many pictures were made from this historic moment. It is said that the best pictures from this moment came from Hanns Hubmann, who was one of the best photographers at that time, but also a good friend of the then 30 year old Fritz Schilgen. They studied together at the technical University in Darmstadt and were both running for the track club ASC Darmstadt.

Sporting home Darmstadt

His sporting home was in Darmstadt. And there is an oddity. Right on the day, six years before the historic moment in the Olympic stadium of Berlin, he took the oath for the participants from the 33 nations at the IV International Student Championships (also called World University Games). That happened in the Stadium of the University in Darmstadt on August 1st 1930. Previously he had designed the power structure and telecommunication equipment for the stadium together with his club fellow Curt Starkloff. Partly he fixed the power lines himself.

After the honourable task of being the spokesman of the oath, he showed his running talent and finished third at the 5,000 m race. Victories against some of the biggest middle distance runners at that time were among his sporting merits. In 1927 in Frankfurt (Main) he beat Jules Ladoumègue (France), who later became professional and before that was runner up at the Olympic Games. In 1930/’31 Ladoumègue had set world records at the 1,000 m, 1,500 m, mile, and 2,000 m.

On September 18th 1932 he gained his probably most important victory internationally. At the international match between France and Germany in Düsseldorf, he beat the Frenchman Séra Martin and Dr. Otto Peltzer (Stettin) at the 1,500 m. Both were former middle distance world record holder.

More than two dozen patents

After his engineering studies Fritz Schilgen moved to Berlin for a job at ‘Telefunken’ company in 1935. More than two dozen patents proved his work-related efficiency. At ‘Telefunken’ he initiated sports activities for the employees. He coached them until the war was over. At the end of April 1945 he was one of the last who abandoned from Berlin. In Hamburg, where he was sports manager of the local athletics federation for some time, and in Ulm he continued his job career. In 1971 he returned to his birthplace Kronberg.

When in 1972 the Olympic fire was retrieved to Germany for the second time – this time with around 6,000 runners on a 5532 k long distance –, Fritz Schilgen accompanied the torch relay for the whole distance in a car. Willi Daume, chief of the 1972 Olympic Games, had asked him to do so. He showed his good relation to athletics still at a high age. For ten years he had helped the German Sport Aid Foundation as a volunteer.  

A person who wrote sports history

60 years later the lusty men, who had become a historic person for the sport in 1936, was standing once again in the Olympic Stadium of Berlin: On April 15th 1996 he inflamed the Olympic fire again at an age of 90. Together with the former NOC President Walter Tröger he had left the airplane just 90 minutes earlier – accompanied by the Olympic fire. That was the 100 year celebration of the first Olympic Games of the new age. These were held in 1896 in Athens. All 23 cities of the Olympic Games where honoured with the returning of the Olympic fire.

So Berlin was among them.  

GUSTAV SCHWENK

 

Personal Data of Fritz Schilgen:

Born on 8th September 1906 in Kronberg, died on 12th September 2005

The four Finals at the German Championships and his best placings:

1929 (21st July in Breslau / 1.500 m)

1.       Hans Wichmann (Karlshorster TV) 3:57,8 minutes

2.       Hermann Walpert (Teutonia 1899 Berlin) 4:01,0

3.       Fritz Schilgen (ASC Darmstadt) 4:02,6

1931 (1st August in Berlin / 1.500 m)

1.       Helmut Krause (Teutonia 1899 Berlin) 3:57,6 minutes

2.       Hans Wichmann (SC Charlottenburg) 3:57,6

3.       Fritz Schilgen (ASC Darmstadt) 3:59,2

1933 (13th August in Cologne / 1.500 m)

1.       Friedrich Kaufmann (DSV 1878 Hannover) 4:00,1 minutes

2.       Willi Würker (Olympia Berlin) 4:00,5

3.       Fritz Schilgen (ASC Darmstadt) 4:00,8

1935 (4th August in Berlin / 5.000 m)

1.       Max Syring (KTV Wittenberg) 15:07,2 minutes

2.       Richard Blöch (TV Eppingen) 15:07,2

3.       Heinrich Haag (SV Darmstadt 98) 15:08,8

4.       Fritz Schilgen (SG Siemens Berlin) 15:10,4


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