Little Bits of History

The Fastest Man in the World

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 25, 2012

Jesse Owens

May 25, 1935: James Cleveland Owens breaks three records. James Cleveland was the tenth child born to Henry and Emma Owens and went by the sobriquet J.C. He was born in Alabama. When the he was nine, the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio and a teacher misunderstood him when he said he was J.C. Instead, she heard it as Jesse and his name was changed forever. While a junior high student, Charles Riley coached the boy in track and field at Fairmount Junior High. Jesse worked after school so Riley let him practice in the early morning. Owens came to national attention in high school we he equaled the word record for the 100-yard dash with a time of 9.4 seconds.

He went on to Ohio State University (OSU) after he could find work for his father, assuring the family would be supported while he was at school. He was dubbed the “Buckeye Bullet” while at OSU. He won eight individual NCAA championships, four each in the years 1935 and 1936. His record of four gold medals at one meet was not met again until 2006 when Xavier Carter also got four medals, although some of his were for relays. Owens worked part time to help pay for his college. He was forced to live off campus as African-Americans were not permitted to stay in the dorms. When he traveled with his teammates, he had to eat in black only restaurants and stay in black only hotels.

The 5 foot, 10 inch athlete took the world by storm in 1935. In just 45 minutes he set three world records and tied a fourth. Even though he had recently hurt his back in a fall down a flight of stairs, he tied the 100-yard dash record, and set records for the long jump, the 220 yard sprint, and the 220 yard low hurdles. His long jump record held for 25 years and he was the first to break the 23 second record for the hurdles event. His 1935 Big Ten track meet experience led sports experts in 2005 o name this the most impressive athletic achievement since 1850.

Owens went on to participate in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Hitler was hoping to showcase the “Aryan race” superiority. The games didn’t turn out the way Hitler hoped and he stopped attending them. Owens won four gold medals during the Games. He took the gold in the 100 meter and 200 meter races, the 4 x 100 meter relay, and the long jump. This record was not matched until Carl Lewis managed to win the same events at the 1984 Olympics. Owens died of lung cancer at the age of 66.

Find the good. It’s all around you. Find it, showcase it and you’ll start believing it.

If you don’t try to win you might as well hold the Olympics in somebody’s back yard. The thrill of competing carries with it the thrill of a gold medal. One wants to win to prove himself the best.

One chance is all you need.

I wanted no part of politics. And I wasn’t in Berlin to compete against any one athlete. The purpose of the Olympics, anyway, was to do your best. As I’d learned long ago from Charles Riley, the only victory that counts is the one over yourself. – all from Jesse Owens

Also on this day:

“Swede” Momsen – In 1967, submariner Swede Momsen dies.
Nuking Ourselves – In 1953, the US continued testing with nuclear artillery.
Halley’s Comet – In 240 BC, Halley’s Comet was first documented.

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on May 25, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    About 1960, while I was getting Jesse Owens started in helping kids start in sports, Jesse said to me that he had stopped too long to sign autographs which got Hitler angry and storm out of the stadium. Jesse said that he had got “too big for his britches”(egotistical) and that somebody had made up that story about Hitler being racist to cover his(Jesse’s) thinking he was more important than Hitler. To me it seems like there are many people very willing to cover up the racism of some black people-Jesse was not racist but somebody had lied to cover Jesse being “too big for his britches”, the liar lying for racist reasons.


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