Who was Jesse Owens?
Jesse Owens was an American track and field known for his world record in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, in which he won four gold medals. He also made a world record in the long jump which remained unbroken for 25 years.
Jesse Owens’s real name was James Cleveland Owens. He was born to Henry Cleveland Owens and Emma Fitzgerald on September 12, 1913, in Oakville, Alabama. When he was eight ‘JC’ (Owens’s nickname moved to Cleveland, Ohio with his family. At the age of nine, on his first day at a public school, his teacher misheard JC as ‘Jesse’ because of his strong Southern accent. That’s how the name Jesse Owens stuck with him for rest of his life.
Early Career Life
At the age of seven, Owens started to work his spare time. He went to Fairmount Junior High School for his early education. There he met Charles Riley, his high school track coach. His coach allowed Jesse to practice before school, making allowances for his work schedule.
Jesse began his career as a track and field athlete in 1928. Throughout high school, he won every event he participated in, including the Ohio state championship three years in a row. The competition which gained Jesse immense attention was the 1933 National High School Championship in Chicago. He had set a new high school world record by running the 100 yards dash in 9.4 seconds.
Even though he was a student, Owens had already set the world record in the 100 and 220 yards- runs and did remarkable well in long jumps after he graduated high school, he was scouted by many colleges, but Jesse chose Ohio State University.
During 1935, Owens took part in the Big Ten Championship and broke three world records and won four individuals events. Just before the competition, Owens suffered from a sore back, and his coach wanted him to rest instead of participating.
Jesse did not practice for many weeks before the competition but still made history. This boosted Owens’s confidence to take part in bigger competitions. Owens entered the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics marking his most legendary accomplishments. Adolf Hitler and meant to use the Olympics as a device to justify the dominance of the German Aryans as a higher race.
But Owens challenged his opinion when he became the first American track and field athlete to win four gold medals in one Olympics games. He became a role model for many peoples in that era, when race was a highly debated issues. The long jump record he set in the 1936 Olympics lasted for 25 years.
Owens and Adidas
In Berlin Owens received sponsorship form the Adidas shoe company. He became quite popular and was also asked to compete in Sweden. But Owens returned to his own country. He thought he would receive some profitable commercial deals after his Olympics win, but due to prevailing racial tensions. He got a very different reaction in his home country.
Owens left university and focused on finding a job to earn money. He was forced to take part in various events (like racing against horses and cars) and played with the Harlem Globetrotters to make a living.
After retirement from amateur athletics Owen experimented in boy’s guidance activities and was offered a chance to become a US goodwill ambassador. He also served as a secretary for the Illinois State Athletic Commission.Owens was a loving husband to his wife Ruth Solomon, whom he married in 1932 and was married to for nearly 48 years. The couple was blessed with three daughters. He died March 1980, due to lung cancer.
Achievements of Jesse Owens
Jesse was honored later in life in the manner in which he deserved. In 1970, he got inducted to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. During 1976, he was finally awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Many honors were given upon him after his death. In 1990, he was presented with the highest expression of national appreciation, the Congressional Gold Medal. An asteroid discovered the same year was named after him. Owens was depicted on two US postage stamps. Many streets, schools, parks and stadiums are named after his tribute.