I let my feet spend as little time on the ground as possible. From the air, fast down, and from the ground, fast up. -Jesse Owens
A new film about the life of Jesse Owens, one of the greatest and most famous athletes in the history of track and field, was retold nationally on television Sunday, February 19, 2016. Owens was a four-time Olympic gold medalist who specialized sprints and the long jump. His achievement of setting three world records and tying another in less than an hour at the 1935 Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in the sport.”
James Cleveland Owens was born on September 12, 1913, to Henry Cleveland Owens and Mary Emma Fitzgerald in Oakville, Alabama. He was called J.C. until a teacher misunderstood and called him “Jesse.” He was known from that day on as Jesse Owens.
Owens believed in helping his family out financially. He took different jobs in his spare time, such as delivering groceries, working in a shoe repair shop, and helping load freight cars. While working these jobs, Owens realized he enjoyed running.
Owens has always attributed the success of his athletic career to the encouragement of Charles Riley, his junior high track coach at Fairmont Junior High School. Since Owens worked in a shoe repair shop after school, Riley allowed him to practice before school instead. He gained national attention when he was a student of East Technical High School in Cleveland.
Owens later attended The Ohio State University. He became known there as the “Buckeye Bullet,” and went on to win a record of eight individual NCAA championships, four in 1935 and four in 1936.
Although Owens was well-known and very successful, he endured much racism. When traveling with his teammates, he had to eat at “black-only” restaurants and stay at “black-only” hotels. Although he could have been considered one of the greatest players on the team, he did not receive a scholarship for his efforts. Owens’s greatest achievement came in a span of 45 minutes on May 25, 1935, during the Big Ten meet at Ferry Field in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he set three world records and tied a fourth.
In 1936, Owens arrived in Berlin to compete for the United States at the Summer Olympics. According to one of Owens’ colleagues and friends, James LuValle, who won bronze in the 400 meters, Owens arrived in Berlin to a throng of fans. Many of his young female friends would yell, “Wo ist Jesse?”and began cutting Owens’ clothing with scissors, forcing him to retreat back onto the train. After that incident, Owens traveled with soldiers for protection. He went on to win international fame with four gold medals at the Olympics: 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and 4×100 meter relay.