Sunday, September 15, 2013


One of the great American track and field athletes, Jesse Owens, would have been 100 years old on September 12th. I remember reading about him when I was a kid and seeing him on the old Ralph Edward's This is Your Life TV show. When he was in high school he equaled the world record in the 100 yard dash, and when he was in college at Ohio State, he set numerous records, including a grand finale when in the span of 45 minutes at a Big Ten track meet, he set 3 world records and tied a 4th. All in 45 minutes! Wow!.

He competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and won 4 Gold medals. This was when Hitler thought the German athletes were superior to any other race in the world. Some of his records stood for decades. And throughout it all he had to put up with discrimination. In college, when the track team traveled, he had to eat in black only restaurants and get take out. But while in Berlin for the Olympics, he could stay in the same hotels as everyone else.

When Jesse returned to the U.S. they had a ticker tape parade for him up Fifth Avenue yet when he went to the reception for him at the Waldorf Astoria, he had to take the freight elevator to reach the reception.

After the Olympics, he returned to the U.S. and accepted some commercial offers. The U.S. athletic officials withdrew his amateur status. As a result his commercial offers dried up. He held various jobs but ultimately filed for bankruptcy. He worked his way out of it and became a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. and traveled the world and became a motivational speaker and an inspiration for all.

In 1976 President Ford presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He went on to receive many more awards and accolades and in 1990 was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bush. He died on March 31, 1980 of lung cancer in Tucson, Arizona. I think he was one of the great Americans. He was an inspiration to us all. He overcame discrimination and a tough childhood, worked throughout high school and college (he couldn't get a scholarship despite his great talent) and became one of the great athletes in history.