FOX'S 20TH CENTUY - 1935-40: Jesse Owens

IN THE history of 20th-century sport no irony could have been greater than having the black American athlete James Cleveland Owens (Jessewas a nickname) become the star of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Hitler, viciously intolerant towards "negroes", had to sit and watch theAmerican win four gold medals.

IN THE history of 20th-century sport no irony could have been greater than having the black American athlete James Cleveland Owens (Jessewas a nickname) become the star of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Hitler, viciously intolerant towards "negroes", had to sit and watch theAmerican win four gold medals.

Whether Owens' Olympic success was more or less remarkable than his equalling or beating six world records within an hour on 25 May 1935,in Michigan, became a matter of enduring debate. Perhaps the pressure of the Olympics shortly before the Second World War made thatmarginally more demanding.

Owens, born in Alabama in 1913, had recorded 9.4sec for 100 yards, 1.90m in the high jump and 7.61m in the long jump while still at school. HisOlympic peak came on 2 August 1936. He won the 100m final (10.3sec), 200m (20.7sec, the fastest seen around a full turn), long jump (8.06m,an Olympic record) and anchored the American 4 x 100m relay team to a world record of 39.8sec.

The long jump was his greatest victory. He had begun hesitantly, qualifying for the final with his last attempt. He then went into a huge strugglewith a German, Luz Long, who recorded 7.87m. Owens bettered that in the fifth round with his winning 8.06. In between jumps he sportinglymassaged the German's sore leg. Hitler was not amused.

The world record session the previous year included a long jump of 8.13m and was achieved with his only attempt of the day. The timetable was:3.15pm equalled the 100yds world record (9.4sec); 3.25 set the long jump record; 3.45 set a world record for the straight 220yds (20.3sec,breaking the 200m record on the way); 4.0 recorded 22.6sec for the straight 220yds hurdles, breaking the world record, and the 200m hurdles.

There is little doubt that had he not turned professional after Berlin at the age of only 23 he would have broken more records. He had recorded anamazing 29.5sec for 300 yards without seeming to try. Without any special training he easily cleared 1.98m in the high jump. Even when he was41 he could claim 9.8sec for the 100 yards.

He finished his career having gained nine world records in seven different events, and he was unbeaten over 200m. After turning pro he often ranin contrived events including several against racehorses. He said that the art was to make sure the starter fired the gun near the horse's head."You've gone 50 yards before the jockey gets the horse going."

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