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Jesse Owens

Star Of The 1936 Berlin Olympics

Along with boxer Joe Louis, Owens was one of the best-known African-American athletes by 1936. Owens was also one of the most popular athletes for the sportsmanship he demonstrated on the field. In one competition in mid-1936, Owens offered to run a 50-yard dash again when he learned that a competitor, Eulace Peacock, had suffered from a faulty starting block; the race was conducted again, and Owens came in second to Peacock. He did not contest the outcome and earned public praise for his sense of fair play. Thus, when he earned a place on the U.S. track-and-field delegation to the 1936 Olympics, Jesse Owens was the most admired and talked-about athlete in the contingent.

Jesse Owens

Owens surpassed all expectations of his performance at the Berlin Games. On August 3, 1936, he took the Gold Medal in the 100-meter dash; his time of 10.3 seconds set a new world record in the event. Owens also set Olympics records in his winning long jump of twenty-six feet, five-and-one-quarter inches and Gold Medal 200-meter dash of 20.7 seconds. Owens's fourth Gold Medal came in the 400-meter relay race; not originally part of the team, Owens and Ralph Metcalfe had been enlisted for the relay in place of two Jewish runners, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller. Glickman immediately accused the U.S. track coaches of giving into the prevalent anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany, although he held Owens blameless for the decision. The relay team won the race in a world- and Olympic-record setting time of 39.8 seconds.

That Owens won four Gold Medals at the Berlin Olympics was astounding; yet his feat also represented a rebuke to the Nazi Party's theories of Aryan racial superiority. Owens later capitalized on his triumph over Nazi ideology by claiming that Adolf Hitler was so upset by his achievements that he refused to congratulate him as he had the other winning athletes. In reality, Hitler only met personally with Gold Medal winners on the opening day of the games; any deliberate snub was unplanned. Yet Owens went on to retell the story of "Hitler's Snub" so many times that it became reported as fact. What was undeniable was that Owens emerged from the games as an American hero.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsTrack and FieldJesse Owens - Part Of The Great Migration, Athletic Success As A Teenager, Chronology, Related Biography: Coach Charles Riley