|Full Name||James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens|
|Date of Birth||12th September 1913|
|Place of Birth||Oakville, Alabama, U.S|
|Spouse||Minnie Ruth Solomon|
|Died||31st March 1980|
The only bond worth anything between human beings is their humanness.
In every field of life, we can find great people who have given astounding performances but legends are those who bring a significant change in the respective fields, and Jesse Owens is highly regarded as one of the legends who had scripted their names in the history forever. He has not only faced the hardships and competitions on-track but in his life as well. Being youngest amongst the ten children of Henry Cleveland Owens, a sharecropper and his wife Mary Emma Fitzgerald; Jesse had to spend his childhood through the thick and thins of life after moving to Cleveland, Ohio; when millions of African Americans had to leave the segregated South. It was an accidental moment when his teacher misunderstood his name and spelled it as 'Jesse' in her roll book during his school time. Owens had to go through various hoops as the family was not able to earn enough to meet both ends of life. He used to spend rest of the day after his school by working on a shoe repair shop, loading goods on freight cars and delivering groceries to local shops while his father had to work at a steel mill. That was the time when he realised that he was born to run. He was strongly encouraged by his school coach Charles Riley to pursue an athletic career for which he had always attributed him for his success as a runner. As Owens had to work at a shoe repair shop after school, Riley granted him to practice in the morning so that he might not skip polishing his potential.
Photo Credits: nydailynews.com
Owens burst out into the national scene when he was studying in the East Technical High School. He competed at the National High School Championship of 1933, and equalled the world record of 9.4 seconds in 100-yard (91 m) dash and also gave a phenomenal performance in the Long Jump event by covering 7.56 meters. With the guidance of his coach Larry Snyder, Owens dominated the record eight NCAA Championships of 1935 and 1936 (four wins each year). Although his athletic career was going high yet, he had to face racial segregation. He had to live off-campus, eat and stay at “blacks-only” hotels but he never let this differentiation hinder his performance and went on with his success streaks on track.
Find the good. It's all around you. Find it, showcase it and you'll start believing in it.
In 1935, during the Big Ten meet in Michigan, Owens set three World records (in the long jump, in 220-yards, and 220-yards low hurdles) and equalled the world record for the 100-yard dash clocking in 9.4 seconds. Owens held his long jump record for 25 years until it was taken by Ralph Boston in 1960 and that too in front of him as he was one of the spectators of the event. These world records were considered as the most impressive athletic achievements since 1850 by Richard C. Crepeau; the professor of sports history in the University of Central Florida. Inspite of protest against the participation of African Americans in the Olympics, Jesse along with his U.S. teammates, went on to compete at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, gave unpleasant consternation to Hitler and his followers.
Photo Credits: missedinhistory.com
Until then, no African American had ever been sponsored anything for athletic performances, but it was for the first time when the founder of Adidas athletic shoe company, Adi Dassler came to Jesse and offered his Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik shoes for his performance. Jesse exhibited phenomenal performances one by one at the Olympics, making everyone completely shell-shocked. Watching his skills and potentials, a throng of people started cheering for him. His fellow competitor Luz Long was so amazed by him that he even guided him for better performance which proved to be fruitful for him, defeating Luz Long as well. Jesse won 100m dash in 10.3 s, a long jump event with a leap of 8.06m, 200m sprints in 20.7 s and 4 × 100m sprint relay, setting a historical record of bagging four Olympic gold medals by an individual until 1984 when Carl Lewis equalled this feat in same events.
Photo Credits: readersdigest.ca
One of the most historic snubs was the incident when after the Olympics, German ruler Hitler shook hands with all the German winners only; which was strongly accused by the President of the Olympic Committee Henri de Baillet-Latour that either Hitler should greet all winners or none of them. Later on, the rumours were discarded by Owens that Hitler had to rush out before the medal ceremony, so he waved at him, and he waved back to him. However, there were still such dilemmas regarding this incident, and people strongly believe that Hitler had unpleasant consternation over Owens’ victory as he believed that Aryan’s were better than blacks.
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.
Owens victory streaks at the Berlin Olympics played a crucial role in uplifting the stature of African Americans in the times when they were facing the racial segregation and had single-handedly crushed the misconception of Aryan’s supremacy. In spite of his phenomenal triumphs at the track and field, he was never invited to the White House by the then President Franklin D. Roosevelt; as spelt out by Owens himself in a speech during a Republican rally of Alf Landon, an American Politician. According to him,
Some people say Hitler snubbed me. But I tell you, Hitler did not snub me. I am not knocking the President. Remember, I am not a politician, but remember that the President did not send me a message of congratulations because, people said, he was too busy.
Throughout his athletic career, Owens had to go through rough patches. He hadn’t had a scholarship during his college for his athletic performances, had to stay in ‘blacks only’ hotels, being not allowed to practice with white men and finally having his amateur status withdrawn by the United States officials just because he didn’t attend their crucial competitive event as he was looking for better lucrative offers for earnings. He didn’t even get a reputed job as racism had taken away all wise minds and hence was bounded to do menial jobs.
We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.
There were also times when he also had to race against horses and amateurs to earn his livings. It was in the early 1940s when Owens decided to bolster his profile and joined the Ford Motor Company as an Assistant Personnel Director where he got promoted as the Director and worked until 1946. In 1965, he was hired as the running instructor for the American professional baseball team New York Mets. Later on, he was appointed as the Goodwill Ambassador of the United States.
Photo Credits: rarehistoricalphotos.com
Owens died of lung cancer on 31st March 1980, in Tucson, Arizona. Post his death, the dormitory in which he lived during the Berlin Olympics was declared as a living Museum with his memorable victories. Jesse’s life has symbolised the struggle of a man standing against tyranny; racial segregation and justifying own existence with the fact that his Olympic performance has left a great question on the phase when whites were regarded above blacks. Many biographies have been written, as a tribute to his unforgettable Olympic wins and directors are still looking for better actors who can impersonate his journey on screen in the most effective manner but the real hero of the track can never be substituted by any means and by anyone.