Jesse Owens became a celebrity in Olympic sport extemporaneously, because at the time of his reign within athletics he did not even have the recognition of the authorities of his country, who segregated him as black, when it came from bringing Nazi power to its knees right under Adolf Hitler’s own nose, in Germany.
Representative of the United States Athletic Team in the Olympic Games from Berlin 1936, the first great sprinter of modern times became an emblem of the fight against racism without even knowing the extent of its achievements, because few showed appreciation for what has been achieved in an emblematic way from sports.
Born in Alabama, on September 12, 1913, this American athlete of African-American origin achieved international fame by achieving four gold medals at the Games in Germany: 100 meters flat, 200 flat meters, long jump and as a participant of the winning team in the 4×100 meter relay race.
He was the grandson of a slave and the seventh son of a farmer. He received the nickname “Jesse” from a Cleveland professor, who couldn’t understand her accent when young Owens said his name was “JC”; in English, “JC”, acronym for James Cleveland, have a phonetic similar to “Jesse”.
Athlete Jesse Owens dazzled with his four gold medals in Berlin 1936.
Owens always attributed his successful track and field career to the encouragement of his coach during his studies at Fairview Junior High, Charles Riley, who introduced him to the sport. What Jesse worked mending shoes after school, Riley allowed training before classes, rather than at regular training hours.
When he arrived in Berlin in August 1936, he was already a celebrity in the United States.. What he achieved in his country in 1935 during a university competition, the Big Ten Conference, was considered “the best 45 minutes in sport.”
In that span, Owens broke five world records and equaled another. One of them, the long jump (eight meters and thirteen centimeters), remained in force for 25 years.
Jesse Owens beats Adolf Hitler’s Aryan power
Jesse Owens was one of nine siblings and had a suggestive nickname – the bullet. He became the undisputed star of the 1936 Olympics and he refuted National Socialist theories of Aryan racial supremacy. Thus it was that the African-American hero angered the Führer and thwarted the propaganda plans of Nazi Germany.
Jesse Owens on the podium of the 1936 Berlin long jump. To his left, the German Lutz Long gives the Nazi salute. (AP)
The protagonist himself said that minutes before leaving, he finally happened to say hello to his box. And that they greeted each other cordially with Adolf hitler, leader of a Germany that would end up invading half Europe, declaring the WWII and causing the Holocaust that would end with millions of Jewish men, women and children murdered in captivity.
What he added in Berlin led him to become a legend. On the third day of the Games he won his first gold medal, stopping the clock at 10: 3 seconds in the 100 meter sprint. The fourth he won in the long jump and on the fifth day he won the 200-meter race.
On August 9, finally, another gold was awarded in the 4 x 100 relay, not without controversy, since both he and Ralph Metcalfe participated in substitution of Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, both Jews who could not compete.
The story of Jesse Owens was also told in the movies. The “colossus of speed”, another of his nicknames, inspired Race (which means both race and race in English) a Canadian film with French, German and North American co-production, which was released in 2016. The film was called “The hero of Berlin “in Spain and” The triumph of the spirit “in some Latin American countries.
Owens in full swing. An athlete who transcended his time.
Whereas in Germany Owens had been allowed to travel and stay in the same hotels as white athletes, upon arriving in his native country, the champion was looked down upon, since at that time African Americans did not enjoy the same rights as the white population.
And if that was not enough, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt never met him at the White House because his priority was to get the vote of the southern population, openly racist. He didn’t even send her a written congratulation.
After the parade in honor of the champions that took place New York, Owens was not allowed into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel through the front door, and He must have arrived at the hotel reception on the elevator.
His moment of glory quickly evaporated and Owens was chaining unimportant jobs: manager of a laundry, and was even a jazz dancer. He also tried his luck in the movies with the child prodigy Shirley Temple, going so far as to “sell” his swift legs in three-to-quarter shows in which he raced against a horse, a dog or a car.
Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics.
But Jesse Owens was also a cultured man: read and wrote a lot and had extraordinary knowledge of music. In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower appointed him as a United States Goodwill Ambassador to the Third World, with an annual salary of $ 75,000.
However, at the end of the decade, Owens definitely moved away from sports and all social events to create his own public relations company. The former athlete dedicated himself to giving motivational speeches around the country in which he recounted anecdotes from his life that made him the figure that every young black man wanted to be: honest and pure.
When the Black Power movement emerged, in the 1960s and 1970s, Owens was harshly criticized for failing to position himself in his favor..
He was a chain smoker since he was thirty, and from December 1979 he was hospitalized intermittently suffering from an extremely aggressive type of lung cancer and drug resistant.
On March 31, 1980, “the ebony antelope”, nickname by which he was known, died at the age of 66.. He was buried in the Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.
Despite the fact that President Jimmy Carter had ignored Owens’ request to cancel his country’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, he ended up paying tribute to Owens after his death: “Perhaps no athlete better symbolized the human struggle against tyranny, poverty and racial fanaticism”.