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Excerpt from
The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories

By Les Woodland

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Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) is the motto of the International Olympic Committee. After reading Les Woodland’s The Olympics’ 50 Craziest Stories the reader might wonder if the motto should be Sillier, Loonier, Crazier.

Please enjoy this excerpt the The Olympic's 50 Craziest Stories.

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Very few of the people who ran the Nazi party lived to old age. The woman who courted controversy by filming the swastika Olympics, however, died when she was 101.

Leni Riefenstahl made the world’s most extravagant Games film in Berlin in 1936, using 30 cameramen and 300,000 meters of film. Or, if you’re not too hot on metric measurements, around 18 miles of it. Three-fourths of it was unusable but what was left turned Olympiche Spielen 1936 into an epic not of just sports reporting but cinema generally.

Guy Lapébie wasn’t too concerned that it had been accused of lauding National Socialism. The war hadn’t yet started, France hadn’t yet been occupied, and he was happy to go and watch it. Not least because he had won a silver medal in the cycling. And he wanted to see what Riefenstahl had snapped of him.

He sat through film of divers and runners and then, suddenly, there he was whizzing along the Avus car circuit on the edge of Berlin. It had been an easy race with no hills and the distance, 100 kilometers, hadn’t been enough to split the field. The medals would go to whoever could sprint fastest in the last few hundred meters.

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Lapébie was an experienced rider—both he and his elder brother, Roger, went on to ride the Tour de France—and he had spotted the way the race would evolve. He’d edged close to the front to be ready for the dash to the line. He snicked into a higher gear, got out of the saddle, accelerated as hard as he could, got back into the saddle and kept up his speed to the end. He was certain to win. Except that suddenly he slowed down. He lost the gold medal to another Frenchman, Robert Charpentier, by the length of a bike.

One of the reasons Lapébie fancied watching the film was to see what had happened. He had ridden many sprints in his life and something of the sort had never happened before. And that was when he found out. Because there, on the huge screen, he saw an arm reach out, grab his shorts and give him a good tug backwards. Worse, the treacherous cheat was none other than Charpentier, his own teammate.

Well, Charpentier was a man politely described as “immensely self-confident.” In other words, he was arrogant and boastful. The least competition was important to him. Even when he trained with friends, he’d brag: “I’m going to break away at kilometer 85: follow me if you can.” A man like that couldn’t tolerate being beaten for an Olympic title, not by such a small margin, still less by a teammate he didn’t especially like.

1936 French Olypmic team

French riders at the 1936 Olympics. From left: Robert Charpentier, Guy Lapébie, Jean Goujon and Roger Le Nizerhy.

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Journalists watching the race had told Lapébie that something odd had taken place but, in the fraction of a second that it took, nobody could detect just what. Now Lapébie knew.

“From the day I saw that film, I considered myself the moral victor of the Olympic Games,” he said. Which, Lapébie being politer than Charpentier, meant “Charpentier is a dirty cheat.”

You won’t be surprised that Charpentier didn’t take that easily. “That’s the biggest lie I’ve ever heard,” he ranted. “I’ll sue Lapébie for defamation even if it costs me a month’s wages!”

It entertained journalists for ages, battle joined not only by the riders but their followers, their fans and, inevitably, a lot of people who knew nothing about it but thought they ought to join in. Charpentier and Lapébie realized in the end that they were prepared to snort and paw the ground but neither was prepared to go further. Lapébie took the diplomatic step of lying. He told Miroir des Sports that he’d been misquoted. What he’d said was that he had been tugged. He had never, of course, said that Charpentier did it.

No, of course he didn’t.

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