Considered Germany's best hockey player in the 1930s, Ball competed in two Olympiads. He was a key member of the German team at the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics. Although many European nations expected to send teams, the Depression limited the field to four; Canada, Germany, Poland, and the United States. Each team played the others twice in a round-robin tournament, which was skated at both indoor and outdoor rinks. Germany's starting center, Ball was also their most complete player, and proved to play an important role in their pursuit of a medal.
After winning their first game, 2-1, over Poland, the Germans lost their next two games to Canada (4-1) and the U.S. (7-0). In the second leg of the competition, Canada and the U.S. defeated Germany 5-0 and 8-0 in their respective rematches. In Germany's final match, with the bronze medal at stake, Ball registered a hat trick (three goals) in Germany's 4-1 win over Poland; he also incurred a five-minute penalty in the game. After the Olympic competition ended, a series of exhibition games took place between local clubs and the Olympic teams. Germany lost their sole exhibition game against Lake Placid Athletic Club, 5-0 (Rudi had a two minute penalty in the first period).
Only a year after leading Germany to the bronze medal, Ball (he had one Jewish parent) went into a voluntary exile in France following the Nazi rise to power. He was convinced, however, to return to Germany and compete on its hockey team in 1936. The United States and other countries threatened to boycott the 1936 Olympics (both the Winter and Summer Games were held in Germany) if Jewish athletes were not allowed to compete and the Nazis hoped Ball's inclusion would alleviate pressure. He was one of only two Jews allowed on the German Olympic teams in 1936 (fencer Helene Mayer was the other).
During the Olympic competition, held in Garmisch Partenkirchen, Germany, it was evident that the German team needed Ball as much for his skills as for the public relations cachet. Ball was applauded by the crowds and the New York Times stated, "...every German here wants to have Rudi pointed out to him." Germany lost to the United States (1-0) in their first game, although the blame cannot be placed with Ball. During the game, he, "was the German team's outstanding man. Without their Jewish teammate the German players would not have been a threat and...the game probably ending with a bigger score...[he] was all over the ice...he is fast, which the rest of team is not."
Germany ended the first round of the tournament with victories over Italy and Switzerland,and Ball continued to be Germany's dominant force. The Germans defeated Hungary in the semifinal round, but Ball was injured during the game and did not play again in the Olympics. Without him, the German team tied Great Britain (1-1), and lost to Canada (2-6). They finished third in their semifinal pool and were eliminated from medal contention, officially placing fifth.
One of the most popular and dreaded European hockey players in the pre-World War II era, Ball was an outstanding skater and stick handler who possessed a 'deadly' shot. He played competitively in Germany from 1928-1952 and was a member of eight German championship squads. A member of the German National team from 1929-1938, he scored 19 goals in 49 international games. Ball played in four World Championships and helped Germany capture the silver medal in 1930 and the bronze medal in 1934. Ball is a member of the 2004 class of the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. March 27, 1910 - d. 1975
Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
New York Times, February 7-12, 1936