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Jesse Owens interview after winning gold medals, 1936 Olympics in Berlin (several takes of same questions)

​Jesse Owens biography - Enduring Spirit

1st Black Olympic Multi Gold Medalist  Jesse Owens

James "Jesse" Owens   1913 - 1980









There are few athletes whose phenomenal skill have earned them superstar status in the Olympic record books.  Jesse Owens, who amazed the world by winning four gold medals in track and field in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, is one of those.  Amid a backdrop of controversy sparked by Adolf Hitler and his theories of white, Aryan supremacy, Owens' performance demonstrated the absurdity of such theories.

The energy and humility of this superstar captured the hearts of the spectators and the people of Berlin.  His triumph was to remain with Owens long after 1936.  In later years, as a public speaker, he would explain, "Regardless of his color, a man who becomes a recognized athlete has to learn to walk 10 feet tall.  But he must have his dignity off the athletic field, too."

Born James Cleveland Owens on September 12, 1913, in Danville, Alabama, the son of a family of sharecroppers.  As a child he labored in the fields until his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio.  While attending the Fairmont Junior High School in Cleveland, he set the world record of 9.4 seconds in the 100-yard dash.  In 1930, Owens enrolled at Ohio State University, He had no scholarship, but he did have a job.  This income was doubly important because he married his childhood sweetheart, Ruth Solomon, in 1931, when he was 18, and she was 16.  Three  daughters, Gloria, Beverly and Marlene, were born to the couple.

​Owens continued his track competition under the coaching of OSU's Larry Snyder.  In 1935, he turned in what critics called the "greatest performance ever seen in a single day in the history of track athletics" when he set a world record in the broad jump, tied his own record in the 100-yard dash, and set two more world records in the 200-yard dash and the 200-yard low hurdles.

Encouraged, Jesse Owens entered the 1936 World Olympics in Berlin.  The atmosphere at the Olympic was tense because Adolph Hitler proclaimed that Germans were the "master" race. Owens was more than up to the challenge.  In the 100-meter dash, he tied the world record at 10.3 seconds; in the 200-meter dash, he shattered the Olympic record in 20.7 seconds; and then, along with his teammates, he won the 400-meter relay.  In the broad jump, Owens was pitted against Luz Long of Germany, who was touted by Hitler as the "White Hope."  Owens defeated the German in a record breaking 26 feet, 5 inches.  While the German competitor displayed sportsmanlike behavior by congratulating Owens, his leader, Adolph Hitler refused to make the presentation.

Having earned the title as the greatest track and field athlete of all time, Jesse Owens toured with the Olympic team, following the Olympics, and then returned to Ohio State, where he earned his B.A. degree in 1937.  After graduating, he continued to tour and participate in exhibitions until he was 39.  However, at the age of 40, he assessed his life and the awesome burden his win had placed on him.  He explained, "I was at the point where I hated a track suit.  I was getting tired." But his faith in himself and his country never tired.  In recognition, he was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 1944, Owens changed his career direction and moved to Chicago, where he began working with youngsters on the Illinois Youth Commission.  He gave unselfishly of his time and talents declaring, "If I .... can help a young person to be a better person today, then I owe it to him to share my experience."

In 1955, Jesse Owens toured India as a goodwill ambassador for the United States.  Later, he founded his own public relations firm and nurtured that successful business until poor health forced him into retirement and a move to a warmer weather in Tucson, Arizona.  After his death, March 30, 1980, Arizona's flags were flown at half-mast, and his body was flown to Chicago for a hero's funeral.


Excerpt from A Salute to Historic Black Firsts.


This is only a summary of the life of Jesse Owens.