What's your opinion on Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens - Olympic star 1936

The day of the days

James Cleveland Owens was born in Danville, Alabama in 1913. His parents had leased a farm there. He later grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. His amazing sprinting talent was already noticed in high school. He financed his studies at the University of Ohio State in Columbus by working at gas stations and as a bellhop. He wanted to become a teacher in a school for blacks. But it turned out differently.

Even before the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Jesse Owens had caused a sensation. May 25, 1935 brought the black superstar worldwide fame. In 45 minutes, he set five world records at a University of Michigan sports festival, despite the fact that he sustained a vertebral injury the day before in a student brawl. The long jump world record (8.13 meters) lasted for over 25 years.

However, the US press paid only a few words of appreciation for Owens' achievements. At the time, they wanted little to know about a black American superstar.

Olympic year 1936

In 1936, Owens ranked victory after victory. The regularity of his world-class performances was amazing. At the university championships in Chicago on June 20, 1936, he was the first sprinter in the world to run the 100 meters in 10.2 seconds.

The German audience also celebrated Owens enthusiastically. Luz Long from Leipzig, whom Owens relegated to second place in the long jump, he called his comrade and deeply regretted his death in World War II. It was said that Long gave Owens a key tip to start after two failed attempts to qualify for the long jump competition. In the third attempt, Owens then jumped the required 7.15 meters and became Olympic champion on the afternoon of the same day. Long came in second and was the first to congratulate his newfound friend. The story of the tip was wrong, Owens later said - people just wanted to hear that.

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt was reluctant to congratulate the black athlete. He was currently in the election campaign and feared too great a loss of votes from the southern states if he would openly confess to Owens. Hitler didn't like that either: a black American who won in Nazi Germany of all places and then fraternized with the German Long. Joseph Goebbels spoke of a shame when negroes win gold.

After the Berlin Games

After Berlin Owens took part in some competitions in Europe and declared his amateur career over on his return to the United States because he could not earn enough money with the sport. Jesse Owens was only 23 years old at the time.

Nevertheless, he managed to market his name excellently over the next few years. He performed in night clubs, variety shows and the circus for good money. In show competitions he even defeated horses and motorcycles in a sprint. Owens graduated from Ohio State University, but then led a swing orchestra and eventually worked as a freelance businessman. His business was bad, so that he went bankrupt in 1940.

He then headed the department for physical training blacks in the civil defense office in Philadelphia from 1940 to 1942 and was then an employee of the Ford Motor Company until 1946.

The last few years

In 1964 Owens visited Berlin a second time to make a documentary about his career. Alongside him, Kai Long, the only son of his friend Luz Long, also played a leading role. In 1984 the former Stadionallee not far from the Olympic Stadium in Berlin was renamed Jesse-Owens-Allee. The athlete also received late recognition in the United States. In 1976 US President Gerald Ford awarded him the Medal of Freedom.

Owens married Ruth Solomon at the age of 18 and had a happy family with three daughters and five grandchildren. During the last years of his life, Owens and his son-in-law ran a thriving public relations agency in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1979 he developed lung cancer and was treated at a specialty hospital in Tucson, Arizona. Jesse Owens died here on March 31, 1980 at the age of 66.

Authors: Claudia Kracht / Tobias Aufmkolk

Status: 02.11.2017, 15:00