Why does Rudy Steiner lose the race on purpose?

Rudy Steiner reveals to Liesel that he loses the race on purpose, though he doesn't explain his motive to her. Liesel believes that perhaps Rudy knows he is not Jesse Owens and therefore saves a little spot in his heart for his hero.

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Rudy Steiner entered four different races at the Hitler Youth Carnival, determined to win them all: the 1500 meters, the 400 meters, the 200 meters, and the 100 meters. Because he enjoyed his new Hitler Youth leaders, Rudy believed that he could impress them with his athletic talents.

Rudy trains...

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Rudy Steiner entered four different races at the Hitler Youth Carnival, determined to win them all: the 1500 meters, the 400 meters, the 200 meters, and the 100 meters. Because he enjoyed his new Hitler Youth leaders, Rudy believed that he could impress them with his athletic talents.

Rudy trains for six weeks, but Liesel isn't sure he can really win all four of those races. On the day of the race, he points out Deutscher, who is described as a "sadistic young leader," to Liesel. Deutscher has been particularly hard on Rudy, who has confided that he needs a "small scrap of triumph" in the Hitler Youth setting because of the constant conflict he faces from Deutscher's orders.

On the day of the carnival, Rudy watches from a distance as Deutscher, "the blond epitome of Hitler Youth," stands giving instructions to two other boys. Rudy wins his first three races, and as he walks toward his family, he passes Deutscher. He can't help offering a snide remark that all of the laps Deutscher made him run have paid off.

At the final race, Rudy receives a false start call for springing into action before the gun is fired. The official warns him that if he has another false start, he will be disqualified. As the participants line up the second time, Rudy has another false start and is eliminated from the race.

It's important to note that this is different from running the race and intentionally losing. Rudy does reveal to Liesel that he disqualified himself on purpose. He never reveals his reasoning to Liesel, who imagines that perhaps he was afraid that he would lose if he ran that final race. She also considers that perhaps he had proven everything he needed to prove by winning the three other races. Yet she also believes that Rudy has recognized that he is not Jesse Owens. This is an allusion to the hatred Jesse Owens faced during the 1936 Olympics because of his race. Despite being considered "subhuman," he excelled and won a fourth gold medal. Hitler refused to shake his hand.

No one was "more impressed than Rudy Steiner" with the accomplishments of Jesse Owens, and as Rudy surveys his victories, he decides to save a little space in his heart for his hero. Winning a fourth medal himself, particularly with Deutscher looking on, no longer appeals to him in this setting of Hitler Youth supporters.

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