Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens was born on September 12th in 1913. ranked Owens the sixth best athlete of the 20th century:

Jesse Owens 1935
Jesse Owens 1935

On May 25 [1935] in Ann Arbor, Mich., Owens couldn’t even bend over to touch his knees. But as the sophomore settled in for his first race, he said the pain “miraculously disappeared.”

3:15 — The “Buckeye Bullet” ran the 100-yard dash in 9.4 seconds to tie the world record. 3:25 — In his only long jump, he leaped 26-8 1/4, a world record that would last 25 years.

3:34 — His 20.3 seconds bettered the world record in the 220-yard dash.

4:00 — With his 22.6 seconds in the 220-yard low hurdles, he became the first person to break 23 seconds in the event.

For most athletes, Jesse Owens’ performance one spring afternoon in 1935 would be the accomplishment of a lifetime. In 45 minutes, he established three world records and tied another.

But that was merely an appetizer for Owens. In one week in the summer of 1936, on the sacred soil of the Fatherland, the master athlete humiliated the master race.

This from Owens’ New York Times obituary in 1980:

The United States Olympic track team, of 66 athletes, included 10 blacks. The Nazis derided the Americans for relying on what the Nazis called an inferior race, but of the 11 individual gold medals in track won by the American men, six were won by blacks.

The hero was Mr. Owens. He won the 100-meter dash in 10.3 seconds, the 200-meter dash in 20.7 seconds and the broad jump at 26 feet 5 1/2 inches, and he led off for the United States team that won the 400-meter relay in 39.8 seconds.

His individual performances broke two Olympic records and, except for an excessive following wind, would have broken the third. The relay team broke the world record. His 100-meter and 200-meter times would have won Olympic medals through 1964, his broad- jump performance through 1968.

Actually, Mr. Owens had not been scheduled to run in the relay. Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller were, but American Olympic officials, led by Avery Brundage, wanted to avoid offending the Nazis. They replaced Mr. Glickman and Mr. Stoller, both Jews, with Mr. Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, both blacks.

Hitler did not congratulate any of the American black winners, a subject to which Mr. Owens addressed himself for the rest of his life.

“It was all right with me,” he said years later, “I didn’t go to Berlin to shake hands with him, anyway. All I know is that I’m here now, and Hitler isn’t.

“When I came back, after all those stories about Hitler and his snub, I came back to my native country, and I couldn’t ride in the front of the bus. I had to go to the back door. I couldn’t live where I wanted. Now what’s the difference?”

Owens received no official recognition from the U.S. — no presidential phone call, no White House visit — until 1976 when he was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom.