JESSE OWENS Biography - Famous Sports men and women


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Name: Jesse Owens                                                                       
Born: 12 September 1913                                                                 
Died: 31 March 1980                                                                     
James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980, aged 66) was       
an African American track and field athlete. He participated in the 1936 Summer         
Olympics in Berlin, Germany, where he achieved international fame by winning             
four gold medals: one each in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and         
as part of the 4x100 meter relay team.                                                   
James Cleveland Owens was born in Lawrence County, Alabama, in the Oakville             
community, to Henry and Emma Owens. When Owens was nine, the family moved to             
Cleveland, Ohio. Owens was the grandson of a slave and the son of a sharecropper.       
He was often sick with what his mother reportedly called "the devil's cold". He         
was given the name Jesse by a teacher in Cleveland who did not understand his           
accent when the young boy said he was called J.C.                                       
Life in the ghetto was not prosperous for the family. Owens had taken different         
jobs in his spare time: He delivered groceries, loaded freight cars and worked           
in a shoe repair shop. During this period Owens realized that he had a                   
passion for running.                                                                     
Throughout his life Owens attributed the success of his athletic career to the           
encouragement of Charles Riley, his junior-high track coach at Fairview Junior           
High, who had put him on the track team (see also Harrison Dillard, a Cleveland         
athlete inspired by Owens). Since Owens worked in a shoe repair shop after               
school, Riley allowed him to practice before school instead.                             
Owens first came to national attention when he was a student of East Technical           
High School in Cleveland, he equaled the world record of 9.4 seconds in the 100-yard     
dash and long-jumped 24 feet 9 ½ inches (7.56 m) at the 1933 National High             
School Championship in Chicago.                                                         
Owens attended Ohio State University only after employment was found for his             
father, ensuring the family could be supported. He was affectionately known as           
the "Buckeye Bullet" and won a record eight individual NCAA championships, four         
each in 1935 and 1936. The record of four golds at the NCAA has only been               
equaled by Xavier Carter, in 2006, although his titles also included relay               
medals. However, while Owens was enjoying athletic success, he had to live off           
campus with other African-American athletes. When he traveled with the team,             
Owens could either order carry out or eat at "black-only" restaurants. Likewise,         
he slept in "black-only" hotels. Owens was never awarded a scholarship, so he           
continued to work part-time jobs to pay for school.                                     
Owens' greatest achievement came in a span of 45 minutes on May 25, 1935 at the         
Big Ten meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he set three world records and tied a         
fourth. He equaled the world record for the 100 yard (91 m) dash (9.4 seconds)           
and set world records in the long jump (26 feet 8¼ inches (8.13 m), a world             
record that would last 25 years), 220 yard (201 m) dash (20.7 seconds), and the         
220 yard low hurdles (22.6 seconds to become the first person to break 23               
seconds). In fact, in 2005 both NBC sports announcer Bob Costas and University           
of Central Florida professor of sports history Richard C. Crepeau chose this as         
the most impressive athletic achievement since 1850.                                     
Owens was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter           
organization established for African Americans.                                         
In 1936 Owens arrived in Berlin to compete for the United States in the Summer           
Olympics. Adolf Hitler was using the games to show the world a resurgent Nazi           
Germany. He and other government officials had high hopes German athletes would         
dominate the games with victories (the German athletes did indeed achieve a top         
of the table medal haul). Meanwhile, Nazi propaganda promoted concepts of "Aryan         
racial superiority" and depicted ethnic Africans as inferior.                           
Owens surprised many by winning four gold medals: On August 3, 1936 he won the           
100m sprint, defeating Ralph Metcalfe; on August 4, the long jump (later                 
crediting friendly and helpful advice from German competitor Lutz Long); on             
August 5, the 200m dash; and, after he was added to the 4 x 100m relay team, his         
fourth on August 9 (a performance not equaled until Carl Lewis won gold medals           
in the same events at the 1984 Summer Olympics).                                         
On the first day, Hitler shook hands only with the German victors and then left         
the stadium (some claimed this was to avoid having to shake hands with Cornelius         
Johnson, who was African-American, while a Nazi spokesman claimed that Hitler's         
exit had been pre-scheduled because of a previous appointment). Olympic                 
committee officials then insisted Hitler greet each and every medalist or none           
at all. Hitler opted for the latter and skipped all further medal presentations.         
On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories, and         
had refused to shake his hand, Owens recounted:                                         
Jesse Owens on the podium after winning the long jump at the 1936 Summer                 
“ When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back       
at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour         
in Germany. ”                                                                         
He also stated:                                                                         
“ Hitler didn't snub me—it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even         
send me a telegram. ”                                                                 
Jesse Owens was never invited to the White House nor bestowed any honors by             
Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) or Harry S. Truman during their terms. In         
1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower acknowledged Owens' accomplishments, naming         
him an "Ambassador of Sports."                                                           
Owens was cheered enthusiastically by 110,000 people in Berlin's Olympic Stadium         
and later ordinary Germans sought his autograph when they saw him in the streets.       
Owens was allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels as whites, an irony         
at the time given that blacks in the United States were denied equal rights.             
After a New York ticker-tape parade in his honor, Owens had to ride the freight         
elevator to attend his own reception at the Waldorf-Astoria.