68. JESSE OWENS: The inevitable battle
Jesse Owens (1913-1980) was an African-American track and field athlete who became a sports legend during the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party had been in power for three years and the Berlin games was the perfect way to showcase the might and efficiency of Germany’s new political regime. Hitler believed that the Aryan master race (white, blonde hair, blue eyes) was superior to all other races and was looking forward to this being proved at the Berlin games. But Jesse Owens burst his bubble by winning four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, long-jump and 4x100m relay.
Although Hitler despised Owens, Germany’s star athlete and Aryan poster boy Luz Long befriended Owens and the two shared mutual respect for each other. Owens eventually beat Long in the long-jump and later said “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. 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.”
Despite his achievements, Owens was still racially discriminated when he returned home to America. He wasn’t offered any big sponsorship deals, had to work odd jobs to support himself and was even forced to race thoroughbred horses for money.
- Watch a highlight clip of Owens kicking ass in ’36.
- Although Hitler saw Owens win the race, he wasn’t actually in the arena during the medal ceremony.
- That giant banner hanging in the stadium isn’t based on a real propaganda poster – I created it to emphasise the ‘master race’ idea.