James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens was an American Track & Field athlete. Born September 12, 1913, he is remembered as an accomplished track star and long jumper.
May 25, 1935, during the Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, MI, Owens completed what is still referred to as “The Greatest 45 Minutes In Sports History” when he broke 3 world records and tied another. Such a victory has yet to be matched.
His talent took him to Berlin, Germany, representing the US in the 1936 Olympic Games. At the time, Hitler was in power, and the German belief was that the Aryan Race held a physical and mental superiority over all others. As an African-American, Owens is credited for helping to discredit that belief. He won gold medals in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, long jump, and 4×100-meter relay during the games.
Following his Olympic success, Owens struggled to return to the life of an African-American in the US. He did not receive an invitation to meet the president (later endorsing his opponent for re-election), nor was he able to enter the front door of the hotel holding his victory party.
Recognition from his country would finally come in 1976 when Owens was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the country. Owens passed away from smoking-related lung cancer in 1980. After his passing, USA Track & Field named their highest award after Owens. He continues to be one of the highest recognized athletes in American history, coming in 6th in a 1999 ESPN list of the Greatest North American Athletes of the 20th Century.
I am so elated that Jesse did not have to die it get his recognition.
Mary Jane Palker