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Jesse Owens

I Have Changed

For my whole life was wrapped up, summed up—and stopped up—by a single incident: my confrontation with the German dictator, Adolf Hitler, in the 1936 Olympics. The lines were drawn then as they had never been drawn before, or since. The Germans were hosting the Games and, with each passing day, were coming to represent everything that free people have always feared.

To me and my American buddies, most of the German athletes, the German officials, even the hundreds of thousands of German citizens who crammed the stadium those days in Berlin, weren't really our enemies. How could Lutz Long—the Nazi record-breaking broadjumper—be an enemy after he came over and put his arm around my shoulder and told me what I needed to do when I was on the verge of fouling out of that key event and maybe blowing the entire Olympiad?

But Hitler—he was something else. No one with a tinge of red, white, and blue doubted for a second that he was Satan in disguise. Not that I was too involved with Hitler in the beginning. I'd spent my whole life watching my father and mother and older brothers and sisters trying to escape their own kind of Hitler, first in Alabama and then in Cleveland, and all I wanted now was my chance to run as fast and jump as far as I could so I'd never have to look back….

If I could just win those gold medals, I said to myself, the Hitlers of the world would have no more meaning for me. For anyone, maybe.

Source: Jesse Owens with Paul Neimark, I Have Changed, William Morrow, 1972.

Additional topics

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