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Jesse Owens

Part Of The Great Migration, Athletic Success As A Teenager, Chronology, Related Biography: Coach Charles Riley


American track and field athlete

Few athletes have transcended their sports to become a symbol of an era as did Jesse Owens. Enduring a childhood marked by grinding poverty in Alabama, Owens became a star athlete in high school after his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. His achievements earned Owens several lucrative offers to attend college as a track-and-field athlete, and he enrolled at Ohio State University in 1933. On May 25, 1935, Owens made national headlines for setting five world records and tying another record at the Big Ten Intercollegiate Championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Although many historians consider Owens's performance that day the greatest achievement by any track-and-field athlete in a single day, his participation in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games made him into a legend. After winning one team and three individual Olympic Gold Medals in an atmosphere charged with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler's declarations of Aryan racial superiority, Owens became an American hero. Although his professional career endured several struggles after his retirement as an amateur athlete, the public's admiration of Owens never dimmed. In the last decades of his life, the former star athlete became a sought-after public speaker. Using his own life's experience as a model, Owens preached the values of hard work, self-esteem, and patriotism. Prior to his death in 1980, Owens was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 1983 was inducted posthumously into the US Olympic Committee Hall of Fame.

Sketch by Timothy Borden

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsTrack and Field