Rudi Ball

It is safe to say controversy reigned supreme in the 1936 Olympics, hosted by Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

This is Rudy Ball, the 25 year old was the captain of the 1936 Olympic team, his second time at the Olympics. When his career ended he would be one of the most decorated German players of all time, with 8 German championships, a 1932 Olympic bronze medal and participation infour time world championships under his belt. In 1930 the French Sports Magazine labelled him the best hockey player in Europe. Ball and his brothers Gerhard and Heinz where hockey heroes in Germany.

There was one big problem in 1936 though. Adolf Hitler's Germany was hosting the Olympics, and his hatred Jewish people and other minorities was becoming world-renowned. Ball, a legend of hockey in Germany and the team captain, was of Jewish descent.

The Germans initially refused to include Ball, no doubt an order from a government official much higher up than the hockey officials. That's when Gustav Jaenecke, Ball's good friend and teammate not to mention a real hockey star, stepped in. He refused to play unless Ball was included.

Without Ball and Jaenecke the Germans knew there was no chance they could repeat as Olympic medalists on home ice. They wanted to win as many medals as possible, to display their superiority. They allowed Ball to play, and allowed his family to leave Germany and flee the coming horrors of the Nazis. Ball had already moved St. Moritz, Switzerland in 1933.

The Germans finished in 5th place, thanks largely to an injury suffered by Ball which ended his tournament prematurely.

Ball was one of only two Jewish athletes to represent Germany at the 1936 games. Helene Mayer, a fencer, also represented Germany despite her Jewish heritage and despite living in the United States since 1933. She won a silver medal.

Ball was just a tiny guy, listed at 5'4" and 140lbs. Amazingly he did not even start playing hockey until he was 15 years old. He fell in love with the game after watching Berliner SC play against Wiener EV. He instantly admired a Canadian fellow named Blake Watson, a player coach with the Austrian team Wiener EV. Watson, a Memorial Cup and Allan Cup champion back in Canada, was an inspiration for many early European stars.

Ball's father purchased an expensive pair of Canadian hockey skates for his son, and by the age of 18 he was playing with Berliner SC in the top German league. He instantly found chemistry on a line with Austrian Herbert Brück and the French speedster Albert Hassler, regulars on their respective national teams.

Also beginning at age 18 he was regularly included in European all star matches against travelling Canadian clubs. Ball found himself playing on the same team as European legends like Bibi Torriani (Switzerland), Josef Malecek (Czechoslovakia) and fellow countryman Gustav Jaenecke, whom he would quickly form a great partnership with.

The right winger was described as "quick and elegant" and "a dynamic skaterwith incredible speed and uncanny stick handling." Though very small he was clever and spirited, and never had any problems excelling on the ice.

Ball participated in his first World Championship in 1930 held in Chamonix. He picked up 1 goal (against Canada, nonetheless) and added 4 assists in the 5 games, helping Germany capture the Silver medal.

In 1932 he first played in the Olympic games. Rudi was the best German player and scored 3 goals and added 2 assists in 6 games as Germany captured the bronze medal.

In 1933 the three Ball brothers moved to nearby St. Moritz, Switzerland, though they continued to represent Germany internationally. After a season in St. Moritz Rudi moved to Italy to play for Diavoli Rosso Neri in Milan.

After leading Diavoli to the Spengler Cup in early 1936, Ball returned to Germany to take part in the controversial 1936 Olympic Games. Following the Olympics he stayed in Germany, returning to Berliner SC until 1944.

He and his brothers moved South Africa in 1948, continuing to play hockey until 1952. That would put Rudi still playing hockey at the age of 44.

Rudi Ball died in Johannesburg in 1975.


nirtanjan kumar said...

He was awesome player

nirtanjan kumar said...

He was awesome player.

Richard Ball said...

My uncle.

Urbane, charming, and amazingly talented, he was ambidextrous, and a party trick would be for him to beat pretty good players at tennis by using only forehands or backhands..... He enjoyed company, and partied in a way that revealed a youth in the Berlin of the 20's......

Joe Pelletier said...

Richard - Though I never knew anything about Rudi Ball until a couple of years ago, his story is one of my favorite in all of sports. Can you tell us more about your uncle - not just the athlete but the man?

Richard Ball said...

Pardon the delay.....

My father, Heinz, died at 57 and rarely spoke about the years before he came to South Africa. I had no conception of the richness of the family history before Birger Nordmark made contact and started researching Rudi.

Heinz spoke of Jaenecke with something close to reverence, and of the 20's in Berlin as a time when there were literally no limits.

I recall approaching him with a story that I felt he would find shocking. His comment was: "I was in Berlin in the 20's......."

Rudi was impossibly charming, and incredibly energetic. He was always impeccably dressed, and though short, one never remembers him as such. He enjoyed driving fast cars quickly, and I think the description as a playboy would sit quite well with him.

In his 50's he was cheeky enough to make a seriously naughty suggestion to my girlfriend of 22, an event that made me a bit cautious about him.

Send me some contact details. Mt email is and Skype is ricball.

My elder son is Rudi and completes his PhD at Imperial College this year.And both Rudi's will be mentioned in the toasts!


Ric Ball

Irv Osterer said...

Thanks so much for posting this Joe. Rudi is an amazing story. I even have his hockey card! and it is a wonder of our electronic age that his nephew can post more info about him!

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