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Jesse Owens
Jesse Owens1.jpg
Jesse Owens in 1936
Personal information
Full name James Cleveland Owens
Nationality American
Date of birth September 12, 1913
Place of birth Oakville, Alabama, USA
Date of death March 31, 1980 (aged 66)
Place of death Tucson, Arizona, USA
Sport
Sport Track and field athletics
Event(s) Sprint, Long jump
Achievements and titles
Olympics 1936 – Gold

James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was an American track and field athlete. He participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, where he achieved international fame by winning four gold medals: one each in the 100 metres, the 200 metres, the long jump, and as part of the 4x100 meter relay team.

Contents

Childhood

The seventh out of 11 children of Henry and Emma Alexander Owens was named James Cleveland Owens when he was born in Oakville, Alabama on September 12, 1913. "J.C.", as he was called, was nine when the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where his new schoolteacher gave him the name that was to become known around the world. The teacher was told "J.C." when she asked his name to enter in her roll book, but because of his Southern accent she thought he said "Jesse". The name stuck and he would be known as Jesse Owens for the rest of his life.[1]

Owens had taken different jobs in his spare time: He delivered groceries, loaded freight cars and worked in a shoe repair shop.[2] During this period Owens realized that he had a passion for running.

Throughout his life Owens attributed the success of his athletic career to the encouragement of Charles Riley, his junior-high track coach at Fairmount Junior High, who had put him on the track team. Since Owens worked in a shoe repair shop after school, Riley allowed him to practice before school instead.

Owens first came to national attention when he was a student of East Technical High School in Cleveland; he equaled the world record of 9.4 seconds in the 100-yard (91 m) dash and long-jumped 24 feet 9 ½ inches (7.56 m) at the 1933 National High School Championship in Chicago.[3] Owens's record at East Technical High School directly inspired Harrison Dillard to take up track sports.

Jesse Owens on running track

Ohio State University

Owens attended Ohio State University only after employment was found for his father, ensuring the family could be supported. Affectionately known as the "Buckeye Bullet," Owens won a record eight individual NCAA championships, four each in 1935 and 1936. (The record of four gold medals at the NCAA has been equaled only by Xavier Carter in 2006, although his many titles also included relay medals.) Though Owens was enjoying athletic success, he had to live off campus with other African-American athletes. When he traveled with the team, Owens could either order carry-out or eat at "black-only" restaurants. Likewise, he slept in "black-only" hotels. Owens was never awarded a scholarship for his efforts, so he continued to work part-time jobs to pay for school.[2]

Owens's greatest achievement came in a span of 45 minutes on May 25, 1935 at the Big Ten meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he set three world records and tied a fourth. He equaled the world record for the 100-yard (91 m) sprint (9.4 seconds) and set world records in the long jump (26 feet 8¼ inches (8.13 m), a world record that would last 25 years), 220-yard (201.2 m) sprint (20.7 seconds), and 220-yard (201.2m) low hurdles (22.6 seconds to become the first person to break 23 seconds). In 2005, both NBC sports announcer Bob Costas and University of Central Florida professor of sports history Richard C. Crepeau chose this as the most impressive athletic achievement since 1850.[4]

Owens was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter organization established for African Americans.

Berlin Olympics

Owens performing the long jump at the Olympics

In 1936, Owens arrived in Berlin to compete for the United States in the Summer Olympics. Adolf Hitler was using the games to show the world a resurgent Nazi Germany.[5] He and other government officials had high hopes German athletes would dominate the games with victories (the German athletes achieved a top of the table medal haul). Meanwhile, Nazi propaganda promoted concepts of "Aryan racial superiority" and depicted ethnic Africans as inferior.[5][6]

Owens surprised many[5] by winning four gold medals: On August 3, 1936 he won the 100m sprint, defeating Ralph Metcalfe; on August 4, the long jump (later crediting friendly and helpful advice from Luz Long, the German competitor he ultimately defeated);[7] on August 5, the 200m sprint; and, after he was added to the 4 x 100 m relay team, his fourth on August 9 (a performance not equaled until Carl Lewis won gold medals in the same events at the 1984 Summer Olympics).

Just before the competitions Owens was visited in the Olympic village by Adi Dassler, the founder of Adidas. He persuaded Owens to use Adidas shoes and it was the first sponsorship for a male African-American athlete.[8]

The long jump victory is documented, along with many other 1936 events, in the 1938 film Olympia by Leni Riefenstahl.

On the first day, Hitler shook hands only with the German victors and then left the stadium. Olympic committee officials then insisted Hitler greet each and every medalist or none at all. Hitler opted for the latter and skipped all further medal presentations.[9][10] On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories, and had refused to shake his hand, Owens recounted:[11]

When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour in Germany.

Jesse Owens on the podium after winning the long jump at the 1936 Summer Olympics

He also stated: "Hitler didn't snub me—it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram."[12] Jesse Owens was never invited to the White House nor bestowed any honors by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) or Harry S. Truman during their terms. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower acknowledged Owens's accomplishments, naming him an "Ambassador of Sports."

Hitler's contempt for Owens and for those races he deemed 'inferior' arose in private, away from maintaining Olympic neutrality. As Albert Speer, Hitler's architect and later war armaments minister recollected in his memoirs Inside the Third Reich:

Each of the German victories, and there were a surprising number of these, made him happy, but he was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games.[13]

Despite Hitler's feelings, Owens was cheered enthusiastically by 110,000 people in Berlin's Olympic Stadium and later ordinary Germans sought his autograph when they saw him in the streets. Owens was allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels as whites, an irony at the time given that blacks in the United States were denied equal rights. After a New York ticker-tape parade in his honor, Owens had to ride the freight elevator to attend his own reception at the Waldorf-Astoria.[7]

Post Olympics

After the games had finished, Owens was invited, along with the rest of the team, to compete in Sweden. However he decided to capitalize on his success by returning to the United States to take up some of the lucrative commercial offers he was receiving. American athletic officials were furious and withdrew his amateur status, ending his career immediately. Owens was livid: "A fellow desires something for himself," he said.

With no sporting appearances to bolster his profile, the lucrative offers never quite materialized, being left with such offers as helping promote the exploitation film Mom and Dad in black neighborhoods. Instead he was forced to try to make a living as a sports promoter, essentially an entertainer. He would give local sprinters a ten or twenty yard start and beat them in the 100 yd (91 m) dash. He also challenged and defeated racehorses although as he revealed later, the trick was to race a high-strung thoroughbred horse that would be frightened by the starter's shotgun and give him a bad jump. Owens once said, "People say that it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse, but what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can't eat four gold medals."[14]

He soon found himself running a dry-cleaning business and then even working as a gas station attendant. He eventually filed for bankruptcy but, even then, his problems were not over and in 1966 he was successfully prosecuted for tax evasion. At rock bottom, the rehabilitation began and he started work as a U.S. "goodwill ambassador." Owens traveled the world and spoke to companies like the Ford Motor Company and the United States Olympic Committee. After he retired, he occupied himself by racing horses. He would always stress the importance of religion, hard work, and loyalty.[citation needed]

Owens refused to support the black power salute by African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics. He told them,[15]

The black fist is a meaningless symbol. When you open it, you have nothing but fingers – weak, empty fingers. The only time the black fist has significance is when there's money inside. There's where the power lies.

After smoking for 35 years, Owens died of lung cancer at age 66 in Tucson, Arizona in 1980. He is buried in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.

A few months before his death, Owens had tried unsuccessfully to convince President Jimmy Carter not to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics, arguing that the Olympic ideal was to be a time-out from war and above politics.

Personal life and family

Owens and Minnie Ruth Solomon met at Fairmount Junior High School in Cleveland when he was 15 years old and she was 13 years old. They dated steadily throughout high school and Ruth gave birth to their first baby daughter, Gloria, in 1932. They were married from 1935 until his death and had two more daughters: Marlene, born in 1939, and Beverly, born in 1940.[16][17]

Owens's great-nephew Chris Owens, an American professional basketball player, was a member of German league team ALBA Berlin before transferring to a Turkish league team Galatasaray.[18]

Awards, tributes and honors

May his light shine forever as a symbol
for all who run for the freedom of sport,
for the spirit of humanity,
for the memory of Jesse Owens.

References

  1. ^ Jesse Owens – An American Life, William J. Baker, page 19
  2. ^ a b http://www.jesseowens.com/jobio2.html Retrieved April 5, 2008
  3. ^ "Jesse Owens: Track & Field Legend: Biography". http://www.jesseowens.com/biography/. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  4. ^ Lacey Rose, The Single Greatest Athletic Achievement November 18, 2005 published in Forbes.com
  5. ^ a b c Bachrach, Susan D.. The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936. ISBN 0316070874. 
  6. ^ "Jesse Owens, 1913- 1980: He Was Once the World's Fastest Runner". Voice Of America. 2008-12-20. http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/2008-12-20-voa1.cfm. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  7. ^ a b Schwartz, Larry (2007). "ESPN.com: Owens pierced a myth". http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016393.html. Retrieved 2008-08-14. 
  8. ^ How Adidas and Puma were born
  9. ^ Hyde Flippo, The 1936 Berlin Olympics: Hitler and Jesse Owens German Myth 10 from german.about.com
  10. ^ Rick Shenkman, Adolf Hitler, Jesse Owens and the Olympics Myth of 1936 February 13, 2002 from History News Network (article excerpted from Rick Shenkman's Legends, Lies and Cherished Myths of American History. Publisher: William Morrow & Co; 1st ed edition (November 1988) ISBN 0688065805)
  11. ^ The Jesse Owens Story (1970) ISBN 0399603158
  12. ^ – quoted in "Triumph", a book about the 1936 Olympics by Jeremy Schaap-ASIN: B00127Y308 –
  13. ^ Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich p.73
  14. ^ Schwartz, larry. "Owens Pierced a Myth". http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016393.html. Retrieved 2009-04-30. 
  15. ^ "Jesse Owens: Olympic Legend". http://www.jesseowens.com/quotes/. Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  16. ^ Jesse Owens's biographical information
  17. ^ Jesse Owens's biographical information
  18. ^ Jesse Owens's great-nephew to play pro ball in Berlin, published August 2, 2006; retrieved March 8, 2007
  19. ^ www.recsports.osu.edu
  20. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  21. ^ Soul of Cleveland website Last retrieved 1/31/2009.
  22. ^ http://berlin.iaaf.org/news/kind=100/newsid=53668.html

External links

Preceded by
Joe Louis
Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year
1936
Succeeded by
Don Budge

link title


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

It all goes so fast, and character makes the difference when it's close.

James Cleveland Owens (12 September 191331 March 1980) was an African-American athlete and civic leader; winner of 4 Gold medals in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany; he used the name Jesse beginning in childhood, when he gave his name as "J.C. Owens" and was misheard.

Sourced

The battles that count aren't the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself — the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us — that's where it's at.
I had four gold medals, but you can't eat four gold medals. There was no television, no big advertising, no endorsements then. Not for a black man, anyway.
  • Another old friend gone!
    • Reported response to learning that his last remaining world record had been broken (31 December 1960); as quoted in Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations (1988) compiled by James B. Simpson.
  • The battles that count aren't the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself — the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us — that's where it's at.
    • Blackthink: My Life as Black Man and White Man (1970) ISBN 0688011632
  • When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour in Germany.
    • On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories, and had refused to shake his hand, in The Jesse Owens Story (1970) ISBN 0399603158
  • People say that it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse, but what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can't eat four gold medals. There was no television, no big advertising, no endorsements then. Not for a black man, anyway.
  • I realized now that militancy in the best sense of the word was the only answer where the black man was concerned, that any black man who wasn't a militant in 1970 was either blind or a coward.
    • I Have Changed (1972)
  • Joe Louis and I were the first modern national sports figures who were black... But neither of us could do national advertising because the South wouldn't buy it. That was the social stigma we lived under.
    • The Tampa Tribune (1 April 1980)
The road to the Olympics, leads to no city, no country. It goes far beyond New York or Moscow, ancient Greece or Nazi Germany. The road to the Olympics leads — in the end — to the best within us.
  • The road to the Olympics, leads to no city, no country. It goes far beyond New York or Moscow, ancient Greece or Nazi Germany. The road to the Olympics leads — in the end — to the best within us.
  • It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler... You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn't be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Lutz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War II.
    • On the congratulations given by German athlete Lutz Long, a competitor in the long jump, who in some accounts he credited with giving him some friendly advice that helped him to win against him; as quoted in "Owens pierced a myth" by Larry Schwartz in ESPN SportsCentury. (2005)
  • When I came back to my native country, after all the stories about Hitler, I couldn't ride in the front of the bus. I had to go to the back door. I couldn't live where I wanted. I wasn't invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn't invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, either.
    • As quoted in "Owens pierced a myth" by Larry Schwartz in ESPN SportsCentury. (2005)

Jesse Owens, Champion Athlete (1990)

Quotations of Owens from Jesse Owens, Champion Athlete (1990) by Tony Gentry ISBN 0791083721
  • We used to have a lot of fun. We never had any problems. We always ate. The fact that we didn't have steak? Who had steak?
  • She was unusual because even though I knew her family was as poor as ours, nothing she said or did seemed touched by that. Or by prejudice. Or by anything the world said or did. It was as if she had something inside her that somehow made all that not count. I fell in love with her some the first time we ever talked, and a little bit more every time after that until I thought I couldn't love her more than I did. And when I felt that way, I asked her to marry me ... and she said she would.
    • On his wife, Minnie Ruth Solomon
  • It all goes so fast, and character makes the difference when it's close.
  • I wanted no part of politics. And I wasn't in Berlin to compete against any one athlete. The purpose of the Olympics, anyway, was to do your best. As I'd learned long ago... the only victory that counts is the one over yourself.
  • To a sprinter, the hundred-yard dash is over in three seconds, not nine or ten. The first "second" is when you come out of the blocks. The next is when you look up and take your first few strides to attain gain position. By that time the race is actually about half over. The final "second" — the longest slice of time in the world for an athlete — is that last half of the race, when you really bear down and see what you're made of. It seems to take an eternity, yet is all over before you can think what's happening.
  • I decided I wasn't going to come down. I was going to fly. I was going to stay up in the air forever.
    • On his final record-breaking leap in the long-jump competition.
  • It dawned on me with blinding brightness. I realized: I had jumped into another rare kind of stratosphere — one that only a handful of people in every generation are lucky enough to know.
  • After I came home from the 1936 Olympics with my four medals, it became increasingly apparent that everyone was going to slap me on the back, want to shake my hand or have me up to their suite. But no one was going to offer me a job.
  • It was bad enough to have toppled from the Olympic heights to make my living competing with animals. But the competition wasn't even fair. No man could beat a race horse, not even for 100 yards. ... The secret is, first, get a thoroughbred horse because they are the most nervous animals on earth. Then get the biggest gun you can find and make sure the starter fires that big gun right by the nervous thoroughbred's ear.
  • We'd get into these little towns and tell 'em to get out the fastest guy in town and Jesse Owens would spot him ten yards and beat him.
  • People who worked with me or knew me still called me the "world's fastest human" because I almost never stopped. I'd found that I could get more done with no regular job or regular hours at all, but by being on my own, flying to speak here, help with a public relations campaign for some client there, tape my regular jazz radio show one morning at 5:00 a.m. before leaving on a plane for another city or another continent three hours later to preside over a major sporting event.
  • It's like having a pet dog for a long time. You get attached to it, and when it dies you miss it.
    • On having his world records beaten
  • The black fist is a meaningless symbol. When you open it, you have nothing but fingers — weak, empty fingers. The only time the black fist has significance is when there's money inside. There's where the power lies.

External links

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