Jesse Owens

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Jesse Owens athletics
Full name James Cleveland Owens
nation United StatesUnited States United States
date of birth September 12, 1913
place of birth Oakville, Alabama
size 178 cm
Weight 71 kg
date of death March 31, 1980
Place of death Tucson
discipline Sprint , long jump
Best performance 10.2 s ( 100 m )
20.7 s ( 200 m )
8.13 m (long jump)
society Ohio State Buckeyes
Medal table
Olympic games 4 × gold 0 × silver 0 × bronze
Olympic rings Olympic games
gold Berlin 1936 100 m
gold Berlin 1936 200 m
gold Berlin 1936 4 × 100 m
gold Berlin 1936 Long jump

James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (born September 12, 1913 in Oakville , Alabama , † March 31, 1980 in Tucson , Arizona ) was an American athlete .

During his active sports career, he set several world records. Owens became internationally known for his participation in the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany. With four gold medals (first place in three sprint disciplines and in the long jump ) he was their most successful athlete.



He was nicknamed "Jesse" by a teacher. This did not understand his accent when he told her that it J.C. call. Owens was the youngest of ten children in a tenant family who moved to Ohio from Alabama.

Athletic advancement

The state of his birth, Alabama, was strictly segregated , so Owens, as an African American, could only have attended a "black" university after graduating from high school. He preferred to study just north of the Mason-Dixon Line at Ohio State University in Columbus . Here he could also start against whites, provided the competitions were held in Ohio and further north, but not further south (on the other side of the Ohio River). He had to stay at home for such competitions, so he had a very mixed competition calendar. Owens received a scholarship due to his athletic talent , which according to the rules included the high tuition fees and full board, but not pocket money and money for books, laundry, etc. Thus, like all athletes whose (white and / or black) parents could not contribute anything to the studies, he was dependent on earning extra income. The university helped here by hiring him as a lift boy on the university campus and as a page in the Parliament of Ohio. According to other sources, Owens did not receive a scholarship from the university, but the university gave Owens' father a permanent job. During this time, the United States was experiencing the Great Depression . Living on campus would have been even more expensive since black neighborhoods in Ohio were cheaper than white. This and his lack of financial means largely excluded him from the social life of his teammates. Athletics was already a very respected sport, and Owens' talent was discovered and promoted in school by his PE teacher Charles Riley. At the university Owens was trained by Larry Snyder , who made him the first black team captain at Ohio State University.

On May 24, 1935, Owens allegedly sustained a back injury in a high-spirited scuffle in which he fell in the hallway of the dormitory, whereupon his trainer Larry Snyder advised him to cancel his participation in the competition planned for the following day. Nevertheless, on May 25, 1935, in Ann Arbor , Michigan , Jesse Owens set five new world records within 45 minutes at the Big Ten Conference on the sports grounds of the University of Michigan , and he set one world record. At 3:15 p.m. he equalized the previous world record over 100 yards (91.44 m) with 9.4 s  . At 3:25 p.m. he jumped the world record of 8.13 m, which was only surpassed on August 12, 1960 by Ralph Boston . He refrained from further attempts. At 3:45 p.m. he won the run over 220 yards (201 m) with 20.3 s, improving the world record by three tenths of a second. At the same time, this time was recognized as an improvement on the world record over the shorter 200-meter route. At 4:00 p.m. he was the first runner to break the 23-second mark on the 220-yard hurdle with 22.6 seconds. This time was also recognized as a world record over the 200-meter hurdle route. The following day there was little response in the newspapers to Owens' world records, who was dismissed as "Ohio State Negro" and had not been interviewed by a reporter the day before.

The sprinter Bob Collier recalled decades later: "Almost everyone in the field was the faster starter than Jesse, but after 30 yards he had decided the matter in his favor." The hurdler Francis Cretzmeyer described Owens' participation in the long jump competition with the words: “That he made just one attempt astonished everyone. Jesse jumped very high, higher than the head of the referee sitting by the pit. " Owens' trainer Larry Snyder reported, " Jesse seemed to be floating over the slope. He practically stroked her. He practically didn't move his body from the hips up - he could have balanced a full coffee cup on his head and not spilled any of it. "

To finance the sending of the Olympic team to Germany, the Olympic elimination competitions were held on 11/12. July in Randalls Island , NY, shortly before leaving New York City for Germany. As a result, the athletes (or their clubs or universities) paid for the trip to New York. The Olympic elimination competitions for all other sports also took place north of the Mason-Dixon Line to ensure that at least these did not suffer from racial discrimination, which in the southern states would have forbidden whites and African-Americans to start in the same sports festival.

Olympic Games 1936

Jesse Owens in the long jump

Owens was late in taking a political stance on the Third Reich Olympics in the US press . He did not want to compete in a country that discriminates against dark-skinned and Jewish athletes. He was sharply criticized by his coach Larry Snyder for this and the importance of the Olympic Games for his sports career was made clear to him. Due to public pressure, which sent United States Olympic Committee with Avery Brundage an observer to Berlin to report on the conditions there and decide-American US Olympians on how to start. On July 15, 1936, Owens set out for Berlin with 382 other American athletes on board a ship from New York . Shortly before casting off, Owens made a statement to representatives of the press on board, in which he announced that he wanted to win three medals, namely in the 100-meter run, the 200-meter run and the long jump. On August 6, 1936, the Duisburg Jew Abraham Adolf called on Kaiser Jesse Owens in an anonymous letter to protest against racism in Germany.

At the 1936 Olympic Games, the 1.78 m tall and 75 kg heavy Owens, who competed with Adolf Dassler's shoes , won four gold medals ( 100 m , long jump , 200 m and 4 × 100 m ), making him the most successful athlete at these games . Owens later said that in the second competition, the long jump, he threatened to fail in qualification after two unsuccessful attempts, but the German Luz Long , who had set a new Olympic record at the time, gave him the tip to move his take-off position a few centimeters ahead mark the actual landing stage to be on the safe side. Owens followed advice, qualified, and ultimately won gold, while Long won silver. However, this long-held legend has been refuted; the trade magazine Der Leichtathlet wrote on August 5, 1936 that both athletes had already achieved the required distance in the second attempt. In a 1965 interview with Olympic historian Tom Ecker , Owens admitted, "These are stories people want to hear." However, the first to congratulate Owens after his victory was actually Long. Owens later commented on this by saying:

“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 wouldn'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. The sad part of the story is I never saw long again. He was killed in World War II. "

“It took a lot of courage to make friends with me in front of Hitler's eyes. You could melt down all the medals and trophies I have and they wouldn't be enough for a layer on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone mad when he saw us hugging. The sad thing about the story is that I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War II. "

- Jesse Owens

Owens' week

Day time competition Result record
So, August 2nd 11:29 100 m advance 1. (10.3 s) olympic record
15:04 100 m intermediate run 1. (10.2 s) World record (invalid)
Mon, August 3 3:30 pm 100 m semifinals 1. (10.4 s)
17:00 100 m Gold (10.3 s)
Tuesday, August 4th 10:45 200 m advance 1. (21.1 s) olympic record
11:13 Long jump qualification
15:44 200 m intermediate run 1. (21.1 s)
18:00 Long jump Gold (8.06 m) olympic record
Wed, August 5th 15:05 200 m semifinals 1. (21.3 s)
18:00 200 m Gold (20.7 s) olympic record
Sat, August 8th 15:00 4 × 100 m lead 1. (40.0 s) World record
Sun, August 9th 15:15 4 × 100 m Gold (39.8 s) World record

Personal bests

route Time
060 yards 06.1 s
100 yards 09.4 s
100 meters 10.2 s
200 metres 20.7 s
220 yards 20.3 s
Long jump 08.13 m

Lack of recognition at home

Award ceremony of the Olympic long jump competition in 1936

Immediately after the Olympic Games, Owens was sent to London for further competitions together with the US athletics team from Avery Brundage . The conditions for the athletes were very bad there, which is why Owens made his way home to the USA, where he saw his wife again after three months. Because of the cancellation of the European tour of the athletics team, Owens was suspended by Brundage and at the same time withdrawn from the athletics federation's amateur status. As a result, Owens was no longer allowed to start at the amateur federation's sporting events.

After the Games, Owens had difficulties earning a living, which is why he ended his sports career at the age of 23 on the advice of his coach Larry Snyder. He then advertised the sport, but mainly for himself. In 100-meter show races, he gave runners from the region 10 or 20 meters ahead of each other and still won. He also competed against racehorses over a distance of 100 yards (91.44 m) and won. He later apologized for these shows: “It was bad to come down from Olympic heights and compete against animals, but I had to survive somehow, you couldn't eat the four gold medals.” “I had become a spectacle, a crazy guy . ” The trick was found out later: Owens always started against highly irritable thoroughbreds, who were so frightened at the starting gun that they only started with a delay. He also competed against motorcycles and greyhounds and received $ 1,000 at a millionaire's party for a performed long jump on the lawn of his property.

Owens opened a dry cleaner and performed in nightclubs and variety shows . He toured the United States as the conductor of a jazz band, making a fortune that he lost on the stock market . He was charged with tax fraud and filed for bankruptcy in 1939. He then went into business for himself with a PR agency in the USA. He was also a speaker at the Banquet Circuit , where he primarily reported on the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Late recognition

Only after Owens was named "Ambassador of Sport" by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955 and sent around the world did his financial situation improve, as he received various promotional offers.

In the summer of 1964 Owens visited Berlin again to make a documentary about his career as an athlete. This production, in which Jesse Owens was involved as a narrator alongside Luz Long 's older son Kai Long, was released in 1966 under the title Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin .

Owens, who had been a chain smoker for 35 years, died of lung cancer at the age of 66 . He was buried in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago . He and his wife left behind three daughters: Marlene Owens Rankin, Beverly Owens Prather and Gloria Owens Hemphill.


Memorial plaque at the Olympiastadion Berlin , in Berlin-Westend
Reconstructed room by Jesse Owens in the Olympic Village (2007)

In Ann Arbor , where he set six world records in 45 minutes in 1935, a plaque on the southeast corner of Ferry Field commemorates the achievements of Jesse Owens.

In 1936 Owens was honored with the Associated Press Athlete of the Year award .

The winners of the Olympic competitions have been immortalized on the walls of the marathon gate of the Berlin Olympic Stadium . Jesse Owens visited the roll of honor that bears his name in 1951.

In 1955 Owens was named "Sports Ambassador" by Dwight D. Eisenhower and sent around the world.

In 1973 the German Consul General Constantin von Dziembowski in Los Angeles presented Owens with the Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class awarded by the Federal President on March 15, 1973 . With this, he paid tribute to Owens' commitment to international understanding and his efforts to correct misconceptions about the German people after the Second World War.

1976 Owens received by President Gerald Ford the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded and 1990 posthumously the Congressional Gold Medal by George HW Bush , who it "an Olympic and American hero, his life every day" called after Jimmy Carter to Owens' lifetime about spoke of this as a " living legend ".

In 1984 in Berlin with the Jesse-Owens-Allee near the Olympic Stadium in Berlin a street named after him. 1985/86 a new "Jesse-Owens-Strasse" was named in Nottuln in North Rhine-Westphalia; streets with this name also exist in Augsburg and Bad Schwartau .

At the World Athletics Championships in 2009 , the US national team returned to the Berlin Olympic Stadium for the first time and, following special approval from the IAAF , wore an emblem on the left chest that showed the initials "JO" in homage to Jesse Owens. Owens' granddaughter Marlene Dortch from Maryland and Long's granddaughter Julia Vanessa Long from Münster-Hiltrup jointly presented the medals in the men's long jump competition . At the same time as the World Athletics Championships in 2009, a photo exhibition entitled "Jesse Owens - a sports legend" was presented in the House of German Sports not far from the Olympic Stadium.

In 2012 Owens was inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame .

The Olympic gold medals won by Jesse Owens in Berlin in 1936 are among the most famous and valuable medals in sports history. At the beginning of November 2013, David Kohler, the president of the US auction house SCP, speculated against the US sports broadcaster ESPN that a seven-digit US dollar amount could be achieved in the upcoming auction of a gold medal by Jesse Owens .

Relationship with leading politicians

Adolf Hitler

It is often claimed that Adolf Hitler , who was present at some of Owens' competitions in the stadium, denied him recognition for his outstanding achievements. However, Hitler would not have been able to commit a direct affront to Owens because, on the intervention of the IOC and in accordance with the Olympic protocol, from the second day of the competition onwards he no longer congratulated any winners. When Baldur von Schirach suggested that Hitler should be photographed together with Owens, he allegedly went mad because of this "serious insult". However, in his autobiography Owens wrote that Hitler stood up and waved to him.

“When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour in Germany. "

“When I passed the Chancellor, he got up, waved to me and I waved back. I think the journalists showed bad taste when they criticized the man of the hour in Germany. "

- Jesse Owens : The Jesse Owens Story, 1970

Valerie von Poson, who worked as secretary for the National Olympic Committee in 1936 , accompanied Owens to the status of Hitler after Owens won the fourth gold medal. Ralf Schreiber, who accompanied Owens as the official interpreter at the Olympic Games, reported: “When we were about 30 meters away and Hitler saw us, he got up and with him two SS group leaders and two generals and they hurriedly left the Hitler stand to avoid touching the hand of an American gold medalist and negro. "

Various objections were raised against the persistent rumor that Hitler refused Owens the handshake: According to them, Hitler did not actually congratulate Jesse Owens personally, but neither did he shake hands with any other athlete that day. On the first day of the Games, he had congratulated all German athletes, which brought him trouble with the Olympic Committee. For reasons of Olympic neutrality, he had to congratulate all athletes or none. Hitler opted for the latter and from then on generally did not shake hands with any athlete as an expression of recognition for his achievements.

Another version is that Hitler shook hands with Owens, but apart from the press photographers. In the 1960s, Owens tried to fight the legend with a photo of the handshake between him and Hitler. But the journalists refused to publish it for ideological reasons:

“The predominating opinion in post-war Germany was that Hitler had ignored Owens. We therefore decided not to report on the photo. The consensus was that Hitler had to continue to be painted in a bad light in relation to Owens. "

“The prevailing opinion in post-war Germany was that Hitler ignored Owens. We therefore decided not to report on the photo. The consensus was that Hitler had to continue to be portrayed in a bad light in relation to Owens. "

- Siegfried Mischner

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt , President of the United States from 1933–1945, had not sent Owens a congratulatory telegram to Berlin. He also refused to see Owens at the White House . Roosevelt was in the middle of an election campaign and was afraid of the reactions from the southern states if he should honor the "Negro" Owens. Despite the four gold medals he had won, Owens was still denied social recognition in the USA, so that he had to take the goods lift at the victory celebration in the New York Hotel Waldorf-Astoria . Owens commented on this in relation to Hitler:

“Hitler didn't snub me - it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram. "

“Hitler didn't snub me, but Franklin D. Roosevelt. The President didn't even send me a telegram. "

- Jesse Owens : The Jesse Owens Story, 1970



  • Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin , documentation, 1966
  • Jesse Owens - Idol and Legend , TV film from 1984 (192 minutes playing time), with Dorian Harewood as Jesse Owens
  • Jesse Owens. The fastest man in the world . TV documentary, USA, duration: approx. 45 minutes; Producer and director: Laurens Grant (Firelight Films), author: Stanley Nelson, first broadcast: May 1, 2012 in the PBS series American Experience , German first broadcast: July 16, 2012 ( ARD ), editor: Beate Schlanstein.
  • Time for Legends (original title Race ), film by Stephen Hopkins with Stephan James as Jesse Owens, 2016

Web links

Commons : Jesse Owens  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Jesse Owens - The fastest man in the world , documentary, American Experience (WGBH) & WDR , director: Laurens Grant
  2. a b c d e f g h i j When Jesse Owens set six world records within 45 minutes . In: NZZ Online, May 21, 2005
  3. Arnd Krüger : The Olympic Games 1936 and the world opinion: Their foreign policy significance with special consideration of the USA. Berlin: Bartels & Wernitz 1972
  4. Julius H. Schoeps : Was there a Jewish resistance? Defense strategies against Hitler and the Nazi terror (PDF; 75 kB). Lecture on July 18, 1997 in the Henning-von-Tresckow-Kaserne, Potsdam, p. 6
  5. "At a glance" - The history of the Adidas group. ( Memento from June 26, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 157 kB); Retrieved April 22, 2012
  6. a b c d e f g h i j Deutschlandfunk: Early death of the Olympic hero . Deutschlandradio : Report on the 25th anniversary of Jesse Owens' death, March 31, 2005
  7. Jesse's fairy tale . In: Der Spiegel . No. 1 , 2015, p. 105 ( online ).
  8. NPR : What Jesse Owens' 1936 Long-Jump Story A Myth? (English).
  9. Oskar Beck: "Never hug a negro again!" In: Welt Online . May 1, 2013, accessed August 3, 2016 .
  10. ^ Henry Archibald Richardson: Archie's Little Black Book . Rich-Burn Company, 1953, pp. 69 .
  11. Larry Schwartz: Owens pierced a myth . On: 2007.
  12. Hannes Vogel: Olympic Summer Games of the Modern Age - with an accentuated consideration of the two German host cities . Leipzig 2014.
  13. a b How Jesse Owens refuted the "Führer" . In: NZZ Online , August 3, 2011
  14. Tomb of Jesse Owens.
  15. ↑ Office of the Federal President
  16. ^ Journal of German Table Tennis Sport , 1973/19 p. 4.
  17. Jesse-Owens-Allee. In: Street name dictionary of the Luisenstädtischer Bildungsverein (near  Kaupert )
  18. Ulrike Krieger: US stars pay tribute to Jesse Owens . In: BZ , August 11, 2009.
  19. a b Jürgen Beckgerd: Friends against the zeitgeist - the descendants of Jesse Owens and Luz Long honor the long jump world champions today . In: Westfälische Nachrichten , August 22, 2009.
  20. a b Westfälische Nachrichten : Owens' Gold will be auctioned , Sport, November 9, 2013
  21. So with Leni Riefenstahl: Memoirs. Munich 1987, p. 268. RD Mandell: Hitler's Olympics. Berlin 1936 . From the American by S. Wahl. Munich 1980, pp. 203ff. and Ian Kershaw : Hitler. 1936-1945. DVA, Stuttgart 2000, p. 37.
  22. Cf. Baldur von Schirach : I believed in Hitler. Hamburg 1967, p. 217f. Quoted from Ian Kershaw : Hitler. 1936-1945. DVA, Stuttgart 2000, p. 38, note 15.
  23. See also the quote in: Adolf Hitler 'did shake hands with Jesse Owens' ( Memento from August 14, 2009 in the Internet Archive ). In: , August 11, 2009.
  24. Rick Shenkman: Adolf Hitler, Jesse Owens and the Olympics Myth of 1936 . In: History News Network, February 13, 2002 (also in Rick Shenkman: Legends, Lies and Cherished Myths of American History . Morrow, New York 1988).
  25. Adolf Hitler 'did shake hands with Jesse Owens' ( Memento from August 14, 2009 in the Internet Archive ). In: , August 11, 2009. Journalist Mischner said he saw the photo (“ I saw it, I saw him shaking Hitler's hand. ”).
  26. Jesse Owens is available on DVD and iTunes! In: July 13, 2012, archived from the original on August 1, 2012 ; Retrieved August 3, 2016 .
  27. Jump up ↑ The First : Review: Jesse Owens - The Fastest Man in the World . ( Memento from July 17, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) WDR