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Casper Oimoen and the 1936 Winter Olympics


Back in the day, skiing was as natural as walking for many Norwegians, and when they immigrated to North Dakota, it was logical that they brought skiing and ski-jumping with them. Among them was Casper Oimoen. He became the best ski-jumper in North Dakota in the 1920s and 1930s.

Born in 1906, Casper Oimoen left Norway at age 17 to come to Minot to work as an apprentice bricklayer. Oimoen had started ski-jumping at age 11 in Norway and had become a great talent.

By 1925, he joined a Fargo ski-jumping club and immediately “catapulted into the limelight of American ski-jumping circles” by winning a number of regional competitions. He became one of America’s best amateur ski-jumpers, winning two national championships by 1932, which earned him a place on the U.S. Olympic team. Oimoen was the team captain, and placed fifth at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics, the best placing ever for an American.

In 1936, Casper Oimoen again joined the American team, and they traveled to the Bavarian Alps for the competition. There had been rumblings that the U.S. should boycott the Olympics to protest Nazi discrimination against its Jewish citizens, but they went anyway.

However, in the opening ceremony on February 6th, the U.S. team delivered a not-so subtle message to Adolf Hitler. Athletes from other nations gave Hitler the Olympic arm salute, with right arms outstretched, as they marched in front of Hitler’s reviewing stand. Hitler responded with his arm uplifted in the Nazi salute. But as Oimoen and the U.S. team marched past Hitler, each athlete kept both arms down. They gave him no arm salute, giving Hitler a simple “eyes right” turn of the head in his direction. The Americans declined giving him an Olympic salute because it looked like the Nazi salute. The German crowd gave the Americans a lukewarm reception for their snub.

On the 16th of February, Casper Oimoen competed, finishing in 13th place. Shortly thereafter, he retired from ski-jumping. In 1963, Oimoen became a member of the U.S. Skiing Hall of Fame. He lived in Minot until 1964, and then moved to Oregon. In 1973, North Dakota honored Casper Oimoen with the Rough Rider Award – North Dakota’s highest honor.

Oimoen died in Portland, Oregon, in 1995. Yet his memory lives on in Minot, where a life-sized statue of Oimoen stands proudly in the Scandinavian Heritage Park.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

SOURCES: For the February 16, 1936, ski-jumping competition: “130,000 See Ruud Annex Ski Crown,” New York Times, February 17, 1936, p. 23; “Ruud Again Named Ski Jump Champion, New York Times, February 17, 1936, p. 23; “Norway Caps Winter Olympic Triumphs in Ski Jump; Hitler, 130,00 Fans Witness Finale,” Minot Daily News, February 18, 1936, p. 6.

Casper Oimoen Memorial service program, First Lutheran Church, Minot, ND, October 11, 1995, p. 1.

Ski Jump Title Captured by Birger Ruud of Norway Before 15,000,” New York Times, February 13, 1932, p. 19; “Casper Oimoen Places Fifth in Olympic Ski,” Minot Daily News, February 13, 1932, p. 10.

4000 Attend Ski Tourney Sunday,” Ward County Independent, March 24, 1932, p. 1.

Snub of Hitler: “Hitler Opens the Winter Olympics; U.S. Defeats Germany in Hockey,” New York Times, February 7, 1936, p. 1; “Games at Garmisch,” Time Magazine, February 17, 1936, p. 37.