Jesse Owens was an African-American athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin, Germany just before the beginning of the Second World War. The Nazis were in power and wanted to use the Games to demonstrate the physical superiority of German athletes to the world. However the outstanding performances of Jesse Owens in the 100 metres, 200 metres, 4 x 100 metres relay and the long jump disproved their racial theories.
This moment is one of the most important in world sporting history because it embodies the power of sport to impact culture. By performing to the best of his abilities, Owens showed that humans are capable of triumph in the face of extreme opposition and hatred.
Jesse Owens and Luz Long
Another famous incident happened as Jesse Owens completed his winning jump to win gold in the long jump. His German competitor, Luz Long, was the first to congratulate him warmly; the two of them remained friends until Luz was killed in the Second World war. According to Owens, Long gave him some advice that helped him to qualify for the event in which he went on to beat his German rival.
Owens is quoted as saying ‘It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me…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.” However they never saw each other again as Long was killed in World War II.
This incident transcended the realm of sport and impacted society and culture in general.
Jesse Owens and Luz Long lie on the stadium floor
Watch a video of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games