‘Little Lovely Inge’ Sørensen

March 21st, 2011



On March 9th, 2011, Denmark's sweetheart 'Little Lovely Inge' Sørensen died in her home in New Jersey at the age of 86. A remarkable young woman and athlete, she was and still is the youngest Olympic medalist. When just barely 12 years of age, she swam in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, taking the bronze medal in the 200m breaststroke. Upon returning to Copenhagen, she was greeted by 30,000 fans and paraded through the city before boarding a ferry to her home in Skovshoved.

“I trained one hour a week at the swimming hall in Østerbro. The rest of the time was in the harbour or at the beach in Skovshoved – where I played in the water with my friends and swam out to the stone that I called ‘my dad’s stone’. If I really wanted to do something special, then I might swim to the stone two times. I was a sort of natural talent, who lived by the strength in my legs and barely felt the water’s resistance at all, because I was so thin. I had nothing like the other swimmers’ power. Oh, that sounds like bragging – nobody wants to hear about that.” Inge Sørensen, 2006 interview with Politiken

Sørensen later gained greater admiration by refusing to compete in the Nazi's propagandist athletic events during WWII, stated Jennifer Buley for the Copenhagen Post. During the 1930s, Nazis used popular female athletes to create "heroic images of the perfection of the Aryan race," wrote Professor Hans Bonde from the University of Copenhagen wrote the book ‘Football with the Foe: Danish sport under the swastika’ (2008). As such, when resistance to Nazi occupation in Denmark began to grow after 1943, the image of young Inge Sørensen refusing to hail Hitler while accepting the bronze on the 1936 Olympic podium became symbolic the movement.

Politiken journalist, Rasmus Bech, visited Inge and her husband in their New Jersey home in 2006. A self-built wooden house set in the small forest of Mount Laurel, they lived a Danish lifestyle in America with homemade sausages and homemade bread. Their home was furnished with Danish furniture and paintings of Danish fishing houses and beech trees. Bech wrote that they only had one 'foreign element' in the home – a Norwegian leather chair which was Inge's favorite.  Inge told Bech, when she was 'younger and fresher', that it was the place to say thanks for a good day in the company of a gin and tonic. "Ohh, that's my drink," she exclaimed with a smile, testifying to the happy memories, wrote Bech in a recent article commemorating her life and accomplishments.

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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