Jesse Owens Biography

Born in Danville, Alabama on September 12, 1913, his family moved nine years later to Cleveland, Ohio, where James Cleveland "JC" Owens underwent a name change because of a schoolteacher's bad hearing. His new name was "Jesse." At 13, he ran in his first track and field race. By the time he was in high school, he was a nationallyknown sprinter. He then went to Ohio State University, paying his way as a night elevator operator. In May 1935, he was a sophomore, getting ready for his first Big Ten track meet. He and his roommate were fooling around, mockwrestling, when Jesse slipped and fell down a flight of stairs, wrenching his back so badly that he couldn't work or practice for the entire week. Rather than withdraw from the meet, Jesse vowed to "give it a try event by event." On May 25, 1935, in the 45 minutes from 3:15 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., Jesse Owens tied the world record for the 100-yard dash (9.4 seconds); set a new world record for the broad jump (26 feet, 8.25 inches, which stood for 25 years); broke the world record for the 220-yard dash — and simultaneously did same for the for the 200 meter dash (20.3 seconds); and broke the world record for the 220-yard low hurdles — which also broke the record for the 200-meter low hurdles (22.6 seconds). It was a feat of recordsetting that has not been equalled. Owens is also famed for his sparkling performance at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin — not only an athletic triumph, but a political tweaking of Adolph Hitler's racist policies. Hitler believed that this Olympics was the perfect forum to demonstrate his theory that the Aryan race is superior to all others. The Nazis ridiculed the United States for having black men on the US Olympic Team. When it was all over, six of the 11 individual Gold medals won by the US were won by these same men.

Owens himself won the 100-meter dash in 10.3 seconds; the 200-meter in 20.7; and the broad jump at 26 feet and onehalf inch. In doing so, he broke two Olympic records and almost broke a third. Also, he led the US relay team that won the 400-meter relay in 39.8 seconds, a new world record. A grimfaced Adolf Hitler left the stadium before Jesse was awarded his third Gold Medal. Ironically, Owens returned to the United States and suffered for years from the incipient racism in his own country. Always the competitor, though, he triumphed again, running a successful public relations firm of his own. Jesse Owens died on March 31, 1980.