Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Hitler spied on Irish athletes in bid for Olympic glory

Adolf Hitler

They were the world leaders in their sport and so talented that even Adolf Hitler wanted to know their secret.

A historian has made an appeal to locate rare film footage of Irish hammer throwers, which is believed to have been shot in Ireland on the orders of Hitler, ahead of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

The little-known fact was discovered by Brian Walsh, curator of the County Museum in Dundalk, Co Louth, who is preparing an exhibition on Irish involvement in the Olympics to coincide with the run-up to the London 2012 Games.

"It appears Hitler wanted to know why the Irish were so good, so he arranged to have the athletes filmed so that their training regime could be analysed," explained Mr Walsh.

"We heard about this film in our contact with some of the Olympians' families and are trying to locate the footage.

"We believe this was done before the 1936 games and there is a suggestion that Hitler's propaganda filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl may have been involved and we are seeking to clarify that."

Ms Riefenstahl's most famous film was 'Triumph des Willens' ('Triumph of the Will'), a propaganda film made at the 1934 Nuremberg congress of the Nazi Party, and she was later asked to film the Berlin games for Hitler.

One of the families Mr Walsh spoke to was that of Dan Coyle, whose son Maurice remembers hearing family stories about German film crews being at training sessions.

Dan Coyle, who was from Dundalk, represented Ireland in the 1948 games. He passed away in 1972.

Maurice said his uncle, Ted, was also a keen athlete and had accompanied his father on all of his training sessions. He wrote to him (Maurice) about the German film crew.

"There could be footage of my father somewhere -- we have no live footage of him at all," Maurice said yesterday.

His father's coach was Dr Pat O'Callaghan, who won a gold medal at the 1928 games where he also set a world record for the furthest hammer throw.

It was reported in the 1930s that in their efforts to replicate his success, the Germans had brought Dr O'Callaghan to Hamburg to film his technique.

Among other Irish successes in previous Olympics was Beatrice Hill Lowe, from Ardee, Co Louth, who won Ireland's first ever women's medal -- a bronze in archery in the 1908 games.

"While we want to find out all we can about Ireland's associations with the Olympics, it's already been fascinating going into Louth's Olympic history," said Mr Walsh.

The exhibition opens in June and Mr Walsh has appealed for everyone with information on the German footage or other Olympic memorabilia or anecdotes to contact the museum at olympics@dundalkmuseum.ie.

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