Facts: Jesse Owens was the world’s first global sports star. Before Pele, before Ali, before Michael Jordan and Serena Williams, Jesse Owens was famous across the world…as a man and model athlete.
In less than one hour, he proved three times that he was the best. In front of 90,000* people, he delivered the performances which moved his name from first-class sportsman to greatness.
James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens created the mould of the modern sports figure and ideal athlete: elite competitor, brand ambassador, human symbol. (*Estimated 85,000 – 95,000)
Owens was born on September 12th, 1913; seven years after the first radio broadcast, 25* years after black & white cameras went on sale, 22** years later than the earliest moving pictures.
Every four years, his accomplishments are featured across TV sports and news networks. In 2021, he would be a #trending topic on all social media; the first man to set three new world records in 45 minutes, the first man to win 4 gold medals at one Olympic Games, the first black male to endorse athletic footwear, and the first person to upstage a system of racism. (*Source: Wikipedia. *1888: **1891)
There are 44 events in track and field. Running, jumping and throwing all require a combination of speed and technique. Jesse Owens was a track & field “star.” First in high school, then as a college sensation, followed by national & international hero. Plenty of outstanding athletes in every period can run fast, throw far and jump high. Stars are the ones who capture public imagination and generate excitement at the same time.
Owens started demonstrating his talent and making headlines in high school. Just 18 years old, he equaled the world record of 9.4* seconds in the 100 yard dash, set a new one for the 220 yard sprint, and went on to clear over 24 feet 9* inches in the long jump at the 1933 National High School Championships. It was his coach from junior high school, Charles Riley, who was the first to recognize his gifts and lift his ability. (*Source: U.S. Track and Field Association)
Facts: Coaches can teach technique and focus, they cannot teach heart and courage. Jesse Owens arrived at Ohio State University” in 1933. His “offer” did not include a full scholarship. He was also barred from staying on campus. To pay for tuition, he worked as a freight elevator operator and lived off-campus in a room & board house on East 11th Ave, with other “non-white” students.
A lot has been written about what it meant to be asian, colored, black or a woman in 1930s America. The hard truth is…it was a difficult and desperate time https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/apr/26/lynchings-memorial-us-south-montgomery-alabama with a fixed “code” for living, depending on your description and type. For Jesse Owens the man, the 1930s meant eating at “black only” restaurants, using “black only” bathrooms and staying in “black only” hotels.
For Jesse Owens the athlete, the 1930s was when he began to climb the ladder of fame and build his legend. His list of honours and achievements has yet to be matched.
In 1934, his second year at Ohio State, he set two indoor world records, in the 60* yard and 60* metre sprints, scored 45 first place victories, five second place finishes, and four 3rd place results, all while racing mostly on dirt strips and rough cinder tracks. (*Source: Ohio State Track & Field Library)
In 1935, Jesse Owens wrote his name into history for the first time and produced what is (still) regarded as the greatest single day in sport.
On May 25th at the Big Ten Universities meet in Ann Arbor, Michgan, he set three new world records and tied another in 45 minutes! First at 3:15, he matched the world record for the 100 yard sprint in 9.4*seconds. 10 minutes later, he set a new long jump record at 8.13* metres. He followed that by marking a new ‘world best’ for the 220 yard sprint in 20.3* seconds, and ended his day by running the 220 yard hurdles with another record time of 22.6* seconds. In sports history, this is known as “The Day of Days.” No person has come close to this in one day…let alone less than one hour. This display of speed and all-round skill moved him from national wonder in the United States to international sporting figure.
At Ohio State, Owens won a record 8 individual National Championship track titles; four in 1934, and four more in 1935. Eighty six years later, only one man has been able to win four once. No man or woman has been able to do it twice.
The top spectator sports when Owens travelled to Germany for the 1936 Olympic Games were: boxing, baseball, track & field, college football, soccer and horse racing.* Soccer did not gain true widespread popularity until the 1940s. The two biggest sports stars of 1936 were boxer Joe Louis and Jesse Owens. Babe Ruth retired from baseball in 1934. (*Source: Encylopedia.com)
The Olympics are promoted as ‘a celebration of sport and the human spirit.’
Facts: Many of the features and rituals now connected with the “modern” Olympics were created and staged by the Nazi regime in 1936 as propaganda and symbols of white, Aryan supremacy.
A special stadium was designed and constructed for the competitions. The 4,000* overseas athletes all resided inside a new, purpose-built “olympic village.” The torch relay and lighting of the Olympic flame was planned as a dramatic spectacle. The Games were televised for the first time. (*Source: Britannica)
This year in Tokyo, there will be no fans allowed into the venues for the 2020 / 2021* Olympics. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/08/japan-olympics-committee-bans-spectators-following-state-of-emergency.html As a headline name and the “fastest man on earth,” Jesse Owens arrived at the Berlin Olympic stadium to the chant of “Wo ist Jesse,” “Wo ist Jesse?” from young German boys and girls. A star to the public and to other athletes, he was photographed and interviewed continuously. The dormitory where he stayed is now preserved as a museum, and it is in Germany where Adi Dassler decided to market his footwear company, now called Adidas, when he approached Owens to wear his newly created running shoes in the events.
The definition of greatness is…”the quality or state of being great in size, skill, achievement or power.”* As the news reels show, James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens defined greatness at the 1936 Olympic Games. Over 6 days, in front of an audience of 90,000*, and watched by history’s most racist and dangerous man, Adolf Hitler, Jesse Owens delivered a masterclass in athletics, won 4 gold medals and ran away with the Berlin Olympics. (*Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
His official numbers are academic; 10.3* seconds for the 100 metres, 26 ft 5 inches (8.06 metres) in the long jump, 20.7 seconds in the 200m final, and another first as the lead runner for the U.S. mens 4 x 100m relay team. To millions of worldwide radio listeners, and the thousands able to view the competitions, each win signified a victory for freedom over control, humanity over tyranny. The modern sports marketing formula of high drama, human interest and sports excellence is based on Owens and his golden 1936 Olympics. (*Olympic record)
Jesse Owens returned to the United States as a national and international hero. In New York, he was celebrated with a full-size ticker tape parade. Along the route, Owens was passed a brown paper bag, which he later found out contained $10,000 cash. A second ticker tape parade was held for him in Cleveland, Ohio. In a sign of the times, he was not invited to the White House by Franklin D. Roosevelt. (*equal to $188,749 USD today)
The 1940 Helsinki Olympic Games and the London 1944 Games were cancelled due to World War 2, ending any possibility for him to compete again and repeat.
Out of the spotlight: Owens was an early humanitarian. A father of three girls, his lifetime outreach as a protector and patron for children’s rights is of very special notice. ln 1955, the U.S. State Department named him Ambassador of Sports. Thirty six years after his first trip to the Olympic Games, he made his last trip to the Olympics in Munich, Germany 1972. There he was specially received by German Chancellor Willy Brandt. In 1976, Jesse Owens was awarded the United States Medal of Freedom, the highest mark of honour that can be given to an individual. https://www.mercurynews.com/2013/09/11/jesse-owens-transcends-all-races/ In 1979, he was presented with the Living Legend award by President Jimmy Carter. James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens died on March 31, 1980. He was 66 years old.
“The only bond worth anything between human beings is their humanness.” – Jesse Owens.
Grade: Living Legend. Sports icon. Eternal hero.
Epilogue: 108 years after Jesse Owens was born, he is still universally recognized as a game changing athlete and giant figure. Owens arrived in Berlin as a worlwide sports celebrity. He left as a human symbol and living icon.
Competition sports are about two things; the drama of the moment and winning. How Jesse “won” in 1936 is what makes him a figure of admiration and respect. On a global stage, in front of a foreign audience, and observed by the most ruthless, racist organization in history, he conquered his sport and the world with speed, humility and grace.
All the sporting records he achieved pale in comparison to what he accomplished as a man. The prejudice Owens faced daily, and sublimely rose above at the 10th Olympiad is why he is bigger than sport, and the reason his example echoes today. His victories in Berlin symbolized goodwill and justice. They stand for all peoples’ hope of freedom against power and oppression. For a summer, he transcended race, showed all men are equal, and he was a winner of the highest order. To underline his greatness, he won over and over…to cover himself in glory and prove racism is a lie.
Copyright (C) 2021. RaphaelClarence/La Source Online. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credits: Columbus Fans, Jesse Owens Banner, Columbia Daily Herald. Jesse Owens Hurdles, The Knowledge Bank. Jesse Owens High School Finish, Ohio State. 1920s/ 1930s Radio, Wikimedia Commons. One Man Circus Article, Timothy Hughes/Rare News Papers. Red Olympic Strip, Wikimedia Commons. Jesse Owens Banner, Jesse Owens. Jesse Owens – Ohio State Suit, Buckeye Xtra. Ohio State Track Meet, Buckeye Xtra. Whites Only Sign, National Museum Of African American History. No Blacks Sign, Guardian. Owens House 1935, Architexty. Ohio State Colour, Pinterest. Greatest 45 Minutes In Sport, Hudson Mowhawk Runners Club. Jesse Owens Start, Smithsonian Institute. Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe, World Athletics. Lighting Olympic Flame, Holocaust Encyclopedia. Babe Ruth, Darlington County Times. Jesse Owens Berlin 1936 w Press Photo, Biography. Jesse Owens USA, Cadbury Research Libary. Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Bettmann. Luz Long, Jesse Owens, Reddit. 1936 Olympics Logo Medal, War Relics. Jesse Owens Olympic Jump, Art.com. New York Times, Timothy Hughes. Sprint Start, Chuck Goodman. Jesse Owens Statue, AL.com. Italian News Cover, Redazione Cultera. Owens Autograph Signing, SI. Jesse Owens 1936 Olympics. Jesse Owens Salute, Pinterest. Jesse Owens Card, Wikimedia Commons. 1936 Berlin Olympics Gold Medal, Heritage Sports. Jesse Owens NYC Ticker Tape Parade, Mirror. Jesse Owens Ticker Tape Parade, Pinterest.