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Table of Contents
Jesse Owens, born James Cleveland Owens, [September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980] was an African-American track-and-field superstar who was most well-known for the 4 gold medals he won during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The 4-time Olympic gold medalist and setter of three world records was credited in his lifetime as “perhaps the greatest and most famous athlete in track and field history”.
- Jesse’s real name was James Cleveland Owens and its shortened form, J.C., was really his nickname. Born in Oakville, Alabama, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio when he was 9 [part of the Great Migration; when about 1.5 million Black Americans moved from the segregated South]. In his new school, when his teacher asked what his name was, he said J.C. but his strong southern accent made it sound like Jesse. The name stuck.
- Jesse took odd jobs in his free time from school as a boy. It was during this time that he realized he liked running. He attributed his successful career in track-and-field to Fairmont Junior High School track coach Charles Riley throughout his life.
- Jesse specialized in sprints and long jumps.
- The first time Jesse came to national attention was during the 1933 National High School Championship in Chicago. The athlete-student of East Technical High School equaled the current standing world record of the 100-m dash that time which was 9.4 seconds. He also long-jumped a whopping 7.56 meters [24 feet and 9 ½ inches].
- When Jesse went to Ohio State University, he was coached by the famous Ohio State track-and-field coach Larry Snyder. It was here that he came to be known in his familiar nickname Buckeye Bullet.
- It was also during his Ohio State years that he won 8 individual NCAA gold medals, 4 for each year in 1935 and 1936. To date, only one other athlete achieved this feat [winning 4 gold NCAA medals in one year] and that was Xavier Carter in 2006. However, Carter’s medals included relay medals.
- Owens set three world records and tied a fourth one on May 25, 1935 during the Big Ten Track and Field Championships held that time at Ferry Field in Ann Harbor, Michigan. What was so amazing was he did the feat in less than an hour! His Big Ten record-breaking and tie wins went down sports history as the “Greatest 45 Minutes Ever in Sports”. To date, it has never been equaled.
The records he set were the following:
– Long Jump
– 220-yard Dash
– 220-yard Low Hurdles
- The record he equalled was in the 100-yard Dash.
- It was during the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin that Jesse Owen’s athletic star shone the brightest. He became the “most successful athlete at the games” after winning 4 gold Olympic medals in the following events:
– 100 Meters
– 200 Meters
– Long Jump
– 4 X 100 Meter Relay
- The 1936 Berlin Olympics was weighed down with controversies. Germany’s most infamous dictator, Adolf Hitler, had just come into power 3 years prior to the games bringing with him his Aryan Supremacy and Anti-Semitic beliefs. The German team in the Olympics was comprised of pale blue-eyed blondes, the perfect Aryan specimen in the Nazi eyes. Because of international pressure, though, the Nazis allowed one athlete with Jewish descent in the team — fencer Helen Meyer [though Meyer was also blond and was only half-Jewish].
- Hitler and his cronies wanted to showcase not just Germany’s resurgence after WWI but also Aryan supremacy in the games. But while Germany won the most medals at the XIth Olympiad, Jesse Owens was clearly the “man of the hour”. As an African-American, a man of colored skin, he was credited with “single-handedly crushing Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy”.
- It was in the 1936 Berlin Olympics where the lightning of the ceremonial Olympic torch first happened.
- During the Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens befriended German long jumper Luz Long [Carl Ludwig Long] after Long gave him a very helpful advice during the event. Long went on to win the Silver medal and Owens won gold. Long was the first to congratulate the African-American for his win. Long died in WWII but Owens continued to correspond with his friend’s family throughout his life.
- Before the competitions, German shoemaker Addi Dassler visited Jesse in the Olympic Village and convinced him to wear his hand-made leather shoes with extra-long spikes. This was the first sponsorship given to a male African-American athlete. Addi Dassler was co-owner of the Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik [Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory].
- 10 years after that sponsorship, Addi went on to build Adidas and his brother, Rudolf, put up Puma.
Segregation/Discrimination in Jesse Owens’ Time
- While Jesse Owens was a celebrated athlete and had a successful career even when he was still studying, he had to stay off-campus with other African-American athletes. When he was also traveling with his team stateside, the star runner had to opt on eating take-outs or in “blacks-only” restaurants. He also had to stay in “blacks-only” hotels. Most of all, Owens was never put on scholarship. He had to work part-time to support his studies.
- After his 1936 Olympic win, Jesse Owens said he was never invited in the White House for a courtesy call with then US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His words: “Hitler didn’t snub me – it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram”.
- Owens wasn’t permitted to enter the Waldorf Astoria New York at the entrance after a Manhattan ticker-tape parade made in his honor. He had to go up through a freight elevator to attend the reception that was organized for him, too.
Other Interesting Facts about Jesse Owens
- He raced against horses. After his athletic career ended and his pursuit to gain fame and money elsewhere failed, Jesse did lucrative jobs to earn money including racing against racehorses. According to him, “People said it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse, but what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can’t eat four gold medals.”
- Someone gave him $10,000 placed inside a paper bag. This happened in the Manhattan ticker-tape parade. While the parade was ongoing, someone handed Owens a paper bag which he didn’t mind until the end of the event. Upon inspecting its content, he was very surprised to see $10,000 inside.
- Owens was a staunch Republican. Though the Democrats bid Owens to support Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 US Presidential elections, he went on to support Republican candidate Alf Langdon. In one rally [October 9, 1936], Owens spoke out, “Some people say Hitler snubbed me. But I tell you, Hitler did not snub me. I am not knocking the President. Remember, I am not a politician, but remember that the President did not send me a message of congratulations because, people said, he was too busy”.
- A sports award is named after him. The Jesse Owens Award is the highest honor given annually to the best US track and field athlete of the year.
- Lucky number 6 – Jesse Owens was named by ESPN as the 6th Greatest North American Athlete of the 20th Century and was ranked the highest in his sport. BBC also included him in the six-man short list for BBC’s Sports Personality of the Century in 1999.
- He was a chain smoker. Jesse Owens smoked one pack a day for 35 years and had been going in and out of hospitals because of his drug-resistant lung cancer. It was the cause of his death in 1980.
- Jesse Owens’ Long Jump record stood for 25 years. The long jump record [8.13 m (26 ft. 8 in.) leap] he did before the 1936 Olympics went unbroken for 25 years which was very rare for a track and field record. It was broken by fellow American athlete Ralph Boston in 1960. Coincidentally, Owens was present when Boston took the gold for long jump during the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics.
Owens and Hitler
- During the 1936 Berlin Olympics, many journalists capitalized on Hitler’s annoyance towards Owens for winning four gold medals despite him not being an Aryan. However, Owens insisted in interviews that Hitler never snubbed him. In one of the interviews, he said that Hitler “waved at him” so he did the same.
- In 2009, German journalist Siegfried Mischner claimed he saw Hitler shaking hands with Owens and a picture was actually taken of them doing it while behind the honor stand.
- Mischner added that they decided not to report it as the consensus that time was continue to put Hitler in a bad light where Owens was concerned. Mischner later admitted that he didn’t know where the picture was or that if it still existed.
- In 2014, Eric Brown, British pilot and Fleet Air Arms most decorated living airman, confirmed Mischner’s account saying that he personally saw Owens and Hitler shaking hands after his win in the 1936 Olympics.
Jesse Owens Worksheets
This bundle contains 11 ready-to-use Jesse Owens Worksheets that are perfect for students who want to learn more about Jesse Owens who was an African-American track-and-field superstar who was most well-known for the 4 gold medals he won during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
Download includes the following worksheets
- Did You Catch His Name?
- The Great Migration
- Jesse Owens: Early Life
- Jesse Owens: College Career
- Word Search
- Adolph Hitler & Nazi Germany
- The Olympic Games
- Jesse Owens and his Olympic Medals
- Other Facts
- Ode to Jesse
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Link will appear as Jesse Owens Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, August 22, 2017
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.