BASIL DICKINSON: He competed 76 years ago

BASIL DICKINSON, 97, Australia's oldest living Olympian, saw Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin games and befriended one of his most famous sporting enemies.

Mr Dickinson was 21 when he competed in the triple jump at the 1936 Olympics.

He lived in Springwood with his wife Betty, until recently when she died and he moved to Kingswood's Anglican Retirement Village.

In 1936, Hitler refused to congratulate the black American sprinter and long-jumper Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the Games.

"I found Jesse Owens to be a delightful person — a gentleman and a gentle man," Mr Dickinson said. "Jesse said he went to Berlin to win medals and he didn't care whether Hitler greeted him or not."

Mr Dickinson saw the Nazi dictator himself, when he visited the Olympic village to see the German athletes.

"There were some Hitler Youth there he was inspecting. When he finished speaking, he spoke to the officer in charge and the kids broke ranks and ran towards Hitler, who patted them all on the head."

Mr Dickinson said he later saw how so many young Germans worshipped Hitler and were willing to fight for him.

While still in Berlin, the Australian team had less success than Jesse Owens.

"In 1935, Jack Metcalfe broke the triple-jump world record and I just missed doing it," he said. "We were the first and second triple-jumpers in the world but we couldn't repeat that in Berlin."

He said the Australians were used to competing on grass tracks, which Berlin did not have, and they often injured themselves training.

He also said the Australian team was so poorly funded it had no coaches and athletes and had to buy a lot of their own equipment, such as running shoes.

"Imagine the uncertainty we felt — we had no coaches, we were on our own and I was only 21."

Metcalfe made bronze in the triple jump and Mr Dickinson finished 16th.

After returning to Australia he played rugby for St George before enlisting for World War II in 1939.

After the war, he worked in the insurance industry before retiring and settling in the Blue Mountains.

Mr Dickinson had two children with Betty and now has two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

He said that despite his disappointment in Berlin, he had no regrets. "It was a wonderful experience."

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