On board a luxury cruise ship to Germany, Louie along with other U.S. Olympic team members steal mementos and gorge themselves on the free food. When they arrive in Berlin, their Nazi hosts give them a tour of the city. Nazi banners and the German military are everywhere. Unknown to the Olympians, the Nazi government had isolated the Jews and Gypsies away from the city, leaving only smiling German “Aryans” in the streets.
Two years before the Olympics, the Nazi party took control of Germany and elected Adolf Hitler as the leader of the country. Hitler and other Nazi leaders promoted the idea of a “pure” and “master” race of Northern European “Aryans.” This racist belief motivated the Holocaust: the Nazi extermination of six million Jews and five million non-Jewish victims deemed “inferior” by the Nazis.
Worried that he gained too much weight on the cruise ship, Louie loses confidence in his ability to win the race. On the race day, Louie lies facedown in the infield of the stadium, readying himself for the challenge ahead. During the race, his teammate Don Lash takes the lead while Louie stays behind, once again conserving his energy. Runners from the Finnish team stay right behind Lash and, near the end of the race, one of the Finns elbows Lash in the chest, causing him to stumble and fall hopelessly behind the pack.
It’s looking bad for the American team. Louie is the Americans’ only hope for victory but his lack of confidence, a psychological obstacle, is preventing him from giving the race his all. Will his resilience return, helping him find the self-confidence to push ahead?
Also falling behind, Louie remembers advice that Pete gave to him as a boy: a moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory. The memory motivates Louie, giving him the will to run as hard as he can for the last lap. Louie finishes in seventh place, but clocks the fastest last lap in Olympic history. After the race, a Nazi official says that Adolf Hitler would like to meet him. In a private section of the stadium stands, Louie and Hitler shake hands. Hitler says, “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish.”
Pete’s advice is like a mantra or tagline for the book and for the theme of Survival and Resilience: pain, whether in a race or stranded and starving on a raft, is only temporary and does not compare to the glory of prevailing over limitations. Hitler’s line also reinforces the idea of the race as a metaphor for Louie’s life so far. Despite his bad start as a delinquent, he had a fantastic finish in the Olympics.
In the days after the race, Louie and some of the other U.S. Olympians drink, party, and steal souvenirs from all over Berlin. But after the Olympics end and Louie returns home, the city of Berlin changes. Anti-Semitic signs and newspapers reappear and the Nazis transport the first prisoners to concentration camps.
During the Olympics, the Nazis hid any signs of conflict or violence in order to project a sense of national unity and power. With the world no longer watching, the violence returns and intensifies, a sign that foreshadows the coming war.
Back in Torrance, Louie plans for the 1940 Olympics. With more experience, he hopes to earn a gold metal. Eager for victory, Louie’s hopes shape around the city announced as the host of the next Olympic Games: Tokyo, Japan.
Foreshadowing continues, but this time with a dark irony. Louie will get his wish – he will make it to Japan but, rather than as a proud Olympian, he will arrive as a prisoner of war fighting to preserve his pride and dignity.