Jesse Owens

by Ambre from Paris

James Cleveland Owens, better known as Jesse Owens, an African-American athlete who was the fastest sprinter of the inter war period. He was born in 1913 in Alabama where his parents worked in the cotton fields. As they were very poor, they decided to move to Cleveland in Ohio in 1920, to give their children better opportunities. But as many families with slave ancestors, it was also a way to escape from the racial segregation of the Southern States.

When Jesse entered in High School, he developed a passion for running and he met his first coach, Charles Riley. He used to train Jesse before school because the spare time of the boy was dedicated to work in order to earn money for his family. The coach knew he had a promising future in track and field and he kept encouraging the boy until he left high school.

Then, Jesse attended the Ohio State University and met his second coach, Larry Snyder, who taught him how to run faster and improve his stride. In 1935, he made the student participate in a meeting in Michigan. Jesse was booed because of his color, but he was finally cheered at the end of his first race when he set a world record. This day, he realized incredible times in the sprint and long jump events.

The next year in 1936, he was part of the American team in the Summer Olympics of Berlin, organized by Hitler, who wanted to promote the superiority of the Aryan race. Many countries called for a boycott because of the Chancellor attitude toward the minorities, but the United States finally decided to proceed with competing in the games. For Jesse and the other black athletes, these Olympics were more than just about winning medals because it could topple the propaganda. But when he arrived at Berlin, he was surprised to share the same apartment as the white athletes, instead of staying in segregated hotels that didn't exist in the athletes' village. Jesse finally went down in the track and field history by winning 4 gold medals in long jump, 100m & 200m plus the 4x100m relay, setting 3 world records under the acclamation of the German crowd.

Later, there was a rumor that said Hitler refused to congratulate him because he was black, but Jesse refuted this, telling the polemic was actually an invention of the journalists. However, he said the American President Roosevelt never invited him to the White House or didn't send him a telegram. Indeed, when he went home, he was considered as a black man before as an athlete, even if he became a national hero. He never participated again in the Olympics and he died of lung cancer in 1980 because he was a chainsmoker.

Jesse Owens is not only a hero because he ran fast, but also because his participation to the 1936 Olympics became a symbol in track and field and in sport in general. He's one of my hero because he proved and still proves we should never give up if we want to achieve something, even if our goal seems impossible. He started from scratch and was humiliated by many people, but he finally became an Olympic champion and the fastest man of his time, setting incredible sprint record, without using any starting blocks.

Page created on 1/9/2017 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/9/2017 12:00:00 AM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Jesse Owens pierced a myth - by Larry Schwartz