THE ORIGINAL KING OF TRACK: Jesse Owens
This is the story of the original king of track- Jesse Owens, who won 4 Gold medals in 1936 Olympic Games, Germany. The medals were awarded by none other than the incorrigible dictator, Adolf Hitler. Just before the Olympic started, the Nazis had hoped the games would showcase Aryan supremacy in all events. But this African-American from Alabama stole the show with his impeccable track performance and walked away with 4 Gold medals much to the annoyance of Hitler. Jesse Owens stood tall and distinctive that day while representing the oppressed class of the world.
This champion was born in Alabama into a family that saw starvation and struggle on a daily basis. Later when the family shifted to Cleveland for better livelihood, the little boy of 9 years was forced to do hard labour and take any menial job that was offered to him. His family survived on his meagre income. The ebullient Jesse Owens did not let poverty affect his morale. A born athlete with a natural flair for running, he would run, hop, skip and jump while running errands. In the process, his calves and legs turned strong and helped him to become a top class field star. With the help of his friends he developed his passion for running and athletics into a serious profession.
Charles Riley, his high school coach identified this potential talent and encouraged Jesse Owens into having training sessions with him. ,the genial coach made special allowances for Jesse Owens to practice after work hours. The ever exuberant Jesse Owens plunged into these sessions and trained really hard to compete at school level. , he worked doubly hard at the shoe shop and juggled both jobs with great ease.
Later Jesse Owens rose to national prominence in 1933 when he equalled the world record (9.4 seconds) for the 100-yard dash. He took admission in Ohio State University without a scholarship and that put him in a tight spot. Jesse Owens worked out a solution for this problem too. He started working part time to fund his education and to fulfil his passion, running for the country.
America of the 1930s? was as bad as any other apartheid-ridden country. It was a country which segregated the society into 2 sections, the white and the black. In such a scenario, Jesse Owens made a name for himself as the rising field star of America. His exceptional talent could not be ignored and the whites reluctantly included him in all the national competitions. The young lad faced all types of indignities by the team members while travelling to other states. He was asked to eat at separate restaurants and forced to stay in cheap motels. He was mentally strong and accepted these rules as the law of the land.
In 1935, Jesse Owens broke 3 world records in long jump, hurdles and 100 yards. So great was his feat that his record stood intact for 25 years.
Next came his ultimate test; the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. His finest hour came when he won Olympic Gold in the 100 m, long jump, 200 m and 4* 100 meters relay. It was an unmatched achievement until Carl Lewis broke it in 1984.
Hitler was annoyed by this black American who could do nothing wrong on the track field. Jesse Owens dashed his hopes of Aryan supremacy. Jesse Owens won 4 Gold medals in Berlin Olympic in 1936.
Jesse Owens always displayed true sportsmanship on field and off it. A great human being, extraordinarily gifted, there was not an iota of pride in his demeanour.
Jesse Owens returned to America with dreams in his eyes and with hopes of better future. His remarkable achievements went unnoticed and America did not award the welcome that he deserved. He was not given any commercial reward or felicitation that was normally expected to a national hero. President Roosevelt ignored him and did not host a reception for this champion. In short, he was royally ignored by all. In 1936, the American Olympic Association rescinded his Olympic status after Jesse Owens refused to travel to Sweden because he was seriously pursuing some commercial enterprises in America at that time.
Jesse Owens was forced to take part in various athletic showcases such as racing against horses or racing against local runners with a 10-yard head start. But no one offered him a job. However In 1966, with the civil rights movements gaining impetus, Jesse Owens was given the opportunity to act as a goodwill ambassador speaking to large corporations and the Olympic movement.
Jesse Owens died at the age of 66, on 31 March 1980 in Arizona.