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A compelling phenomenon happened in American history that awesome day in 1936 at the Berlin Olympics, when Jesse Owens won four gold medals. This achievement, along with others that he had in his life, were very inspiring and contributed to how fast Jesse rose to fame. Jesse Owens was a legend, not just because of his record finishes on the track, but also because of the times in which he competed, and how challenging they were.
“Jesse Owens was born on September 12, 1913, in Oakville, Alabama” (Lean’tin Bracks, 2012, p.1). Jesse’s father was a sharecropper, Jesse and his six brothers and sisters would help him farm other people’s land. Jesse would pick cotton on a rich man’s farm with his brothers and sisters in Alabama when they were young to earn some money. At the age of nine the Owen’s family moved to Ohio, Jesse started to working in a grocery store to earn money for his family. In 1928 Jesse set numerous records, including jumping almost twenty-three feet in the long jump. In the 1930’s, Jesse joined the track and field team at East Technical High and began setting records. In his junior year, at the National Interscholastic Championship, Jesse set the 220- yard dash record and tied the World record in the 100-yard dash. Cleveland was so proud of Jesse that they honored him with a parade that was citywide and highlighting his accomplishments.
Jesse Owens decided to attend Ohio State after an awesome high school track and field career. Jesse was not granted a scholarship, he would have to work many jobs in order to afford Ohio State. He worked in the library, and served as a page in the Ohio Statehouse. Jesse was not a very good student, but he was the best on the Ohio State University track team and the best in the country (Raatma 14). Jesse made his first real appearance at the Big Ten meet in Michigan. This meet would demonstrate to him and everyone else that he meant business by finishing well in all his events, winning three and getting 2nd in the fourth. At the Big Ten Championship, he broke five world records and surprised people in a sixth event, in a span of about 45 minutes. They almost didn’t let him compete, due to a sore back, it took Jesse a lot of persuading in order to convince the coach to let him compete because his coach was totally against it. In order to test how his back would be when he ran, he ran the 100- meter dash, in an amazing time of 9.3 seconds. This is where people really began to take notice of what a star athlete he really was. Three years before the Big Ten Championship, his soon to be wife, Ruth Solomon, gave birth to their daughter. Ruth’s parents, wouldn’t allow Jesse to see her. Jesse still felt the need to send money to help Ruth pay for their daughter’s needs. He married Ruth Solomon in Cleveland in 1935, he was then suspended from the Ohio State track and field team the following year, for poor grades. He had to work very hard to raise his grade point average, he did it just in time for the spring Track and Field season. He was able to attend the 1936 Olympic trials for the summer Olympic Games. He performed really well in the running events and ended up in the American squad as the overall leader. Jesse’s college track career was his introduction to the world, and a sign of what a great Olympian he would become.
The Olympic Games took place in Berlin, in 1936, Jesse was 22. As the opening ceremony began, you could feel and hear the excitement of the crowd. Adolf Hitler, was there to salute the Nazi flag along with thousands of others, showing their patriotism. Hitler claimed that the Aryan race was going to dominate, but Jesse made sure to prove that this was not true, and that Hitler’s “perfect race” wasn’t so perfect after all. Jesse couldn’t have gone to these games if the United States Olympic Committee had decided to boycott these games. They decided against boycotting, they were afraid it might show support for the Nazi’s party beliefs and policies. It was reported that some Jewish athletes were not being treated fairly. The group in favor of no boycott won. That meant a squad would go to the Olympic Games. This is the Olympic Games, Jesse Owens showed his advantage in track and field. Jesse stood at 5’10” and weighed 165 lbs., he won his first medal in the 100- yard dash with an amazing time of 10.3.
During the Olympics, many gold medalists were invited by Hitler to his personal leader’s box, to watch the Olympic events with Hitler. Hitler never invited Jesse Owens to his personal box to receive any of the medals he won. Hitler never invited any black people to his box. Many German’s liked Jesse, but Hitler did not. Jesse then went on to capture the long jump with a distance of 26 feet 5 inches, which was World Record Breaking. An incident happened during this event that almost had Jesse disqualified from it. During his practice jump, the judges counted it as his first jump, and not a practice jump. His next jump, he jumped over the line, causing a fault on his part. On Jesse’s last jump, he jumped his record- breaking jump, beating out his biggest competitor, Luz Long of Germany. When Jesse accepted the long jump medal, Luz Long held Jesse’s hand up in front of the crowd, the crowd started chanting Jesse’s name. When Jesse and Luz received their medals, they walked together, right by Hitler who was watching from his leader’s box. Jesse Owens stated, “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 won’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment.” “Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace,” (Laucella 34). After this event, Jesse went on to shatter another one of his records 20.7 in his 200- meter. “For his third gold medal, Jesse defeated his team mate Mack Robinson, the older brother of the famous baseball player, Jackie Robinson”. Jesse returned home a celebrity, and took part in many different celebratory events, such as, car parades and banquets. Long and Owens became close friends for a long time after the Olympics. Jesse’s relationship with Long showed true sportsmanship. Jesse’s experience in the Olympics, not only showcased his athletic ability, but also showed that there was no place for racism in the Olympics, and there was not a dominant race, even if Hitler believed there was.
Jesse’s life was a very emotional one after the Olympics. He advertised for certain companies, and had jobs with associations. The jobs that Jesse did after the Olympics earned him large amounts of money. He would talk at banquets, work for endorsements and advertising. Jesse also worked many jobs, he was a consultant for several corporations, even the United States Olympic Committee. He traveled with basketball and baseball teams, as well as, put on running exhibitions. The job that he loved most, was when he was a playground director in Cleveland and worked with underprivileged children for the Chicago Boys’ Club. He eventually didn’t take the separation from his family that he missed so much, so he decided to open a Laundromat right down the street from his home. In 1940 his mother died and the Internal Revenue Service caught up with him, this forced Jesse to close his business. With the loss of his business and feeling bad that he had not been a better student, he went back to Ohio State to receive a degree. Even though he tried, it was too hard and he quit after a year.
During the start of World War II, the government hired Jesse to implement and organize physical fitness routines. Later on, he took a more pleasant job in Detroit with the Ford Motor Company to look after the needs of thousands of black workers. After the war, he moved back to Chicago with his family, where he started a public relations business, his business really got quite a boost when in 1950, the Associated Press named him, “the greatest track-and-field athlete in history” (Raatma 35). Jesse Owens was inducted into the hall of fame for track and field, in 1974. Jesse accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ford in 1976. He was overwhelmed by such an honor. In 1979, Jesse was given the Living Legend Award by President Carter. Also in 1979, Jesse found out that he was terminally ill with lung cancer. James Cleveland Owens died March 31, 1980 of lung cancer.
Jesse Owens was one of the most accomplished and surprising runners in history. He proved that Hitler’s “perfect race” was not perfect by beating many German athletes. The Berlin Olympics reinforced the idea that there is not one race that is dominant over another, but in order to be a successful nation, you all must be one unified race. Jesse Owen’s story symbolizes the American spirit, regardless of the challenges we may face today. Jesse Owen’s was and still is an important part of our American History.
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