Olympics History >> Berlin 1936 >> Key Moments

Berlin 1936 - Key Moments

Hail Jesse

Hitler and his generals foresaw the Berlin Games as the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the might of the Nazi propaganda machine - especially their theories on the supremacy of the Aryan race over Jews, Blacks and other non-Germans. Jesse Owens had other ideas.

In a matter of days, the "Black Pearl" of American athletics shattered this propaganda like a house of cards by achieving an unprecedented run of four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, long jump, and 4x100m. Much to Hitler's disappointment.

For Owens, it was the result of pure athletic ability that was first noticed on the track of Fairmont Junior High School in Cleveland, Ohio one afternoon in 1928.

Only 15 years old, he ran the 100 yards in a time of 9.8sec before jumping 1.85m in the high jump and 7.65m in the long jump.

A few weeks before the Berlin meeting, Owens gave notice of his intention to shine by smashing the 100m world record in a time of 10.2 sec. For this particular son of a slave, there were two objectives tied to the Games: to win a medal for his country, but above all to establish the fact that all races were equal.

Hitler in disarray

His initial response came in the 100m final, the first of his medals, with an Olympic record time of 10.3 sec, pulling ahead of his compatriot Ralph Metclafe.

In the 200m, he beat another compatriot, Matthew Robinson, before overtaking Lutz Long in the long jump on his last attempt (8.06m) to win his third title - much to the great disappointment of Hitler who, having already welcomed and congratulated many victorious athletes, left the stadium quickly to avoid congratulating Owens.

The "black pearl" of American athletics continued his haul with a team win in the 4x100m, establishing a world record in 39.8 sec. In total, he won four gold medals between August 3 - 9.

Unfortunately the shine would soon wear off for Owens on his return to his homeland. In short, the rest of his career was less fruitful and he was accused of, and suffered, the subsequent effects of professionalism. Aged only 24, he was denied the right to participate in further Olympic competition.

"Jessie" subsequently spent his time working for the improvement of the treatment of his African-American countrymen, meriting him the title "United States ambassador for the Third World" by President Eisenhower. Ironically, yet another fight for equality.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.


Moment in Time