The 4000 metres cross-country running took place at Wannsee Golf Club and involved a difficult route through steep ravines, forest glades and meadows. Though comfortably in the lead, Handrick (GER), in the Olympic film, is seen to be in a dream-like state at the start and, when given his starting orders, appears to spring into action from complete stillness.
The event was won by the Austrian pentathlete, Karl Leban, in 13:17.4 and the British runners, Legard and MacDougall, who had placed 1st and 2nd in Los Angeles in 1932, came 4th and 6th respectively in Berlin. MacDougall, apparently, had ‘the leather of one of his shoes burst’ on his run. He stopped twice to try to remedy the problem but, 300 metres from home, kicked off the shoe and ran barefoot.
Even more impressive was Dodd Starbird (USA) who, despite his painful broken metatarsal bone, managed to complete the competition with a 7th place in the running. While Charles Leonard, his team mate and friend, toured Europe for a few weeks after the Games, Starbird had to return home promptly with his foot in plaster. So close were the two team mates that, in later years, Leonard’s daughter married Dodd Starbird’s son.
Though he only placed 14th in the running, it was enough for Gotthard Handrick to win the Olympic title by 8 placing points. This was the first time Sweden had failed to win since the birth of the sport in 1912. Handrick was to become a fighter pilot after the Games, fighting for the fascists in the Spanish Civil War.
As a Major in the Luftwaffe, he was awarded the German Cross in Gold. He survived the war. Hitler was so pleased with Handrick’s Olympic victory that, the very next day, Handrick was promoted to Hauptmann. The silver medal went to Charles Leonard (USA) who, like Handrick, only finished outside the top 10 in one event. Leonard’s record in the shooting (200, a maximum) would, of course, never be beaten although targets would change shape in future years and so new records would be set.
In 1958, on a trip to Germany, Leonard met Handrick once again. Leonard retired as a Major General and died aged 94 in early 2006. He was buried in Arlington Cemetery alongside his brother, a Navy Admiral.
The bronze medal went to Silvano Abba (ITA) who edged the former champion, Sven Thofelt (SWE), into 4th place by just 1.5 place points. Abba was the only one of these four men who died in World War II. He was killed at the Battle of Izbushensky near Volgograd as one of the 700 riders of the Italian Savoy Cavalry who made the last cavalry charge in military history.