Jesse Owens: The Greatest Athlete in Track and Field History

Let’s start off by mentioning that Jesse Owens captured four gold medals at a single Olympiad. That alone is an impressive feat. It’s also interesting to think that although Hitler intended the 1936 Berlin Games to showcase his fascist ideology of Aryan racial supremacy, it was actually a black man who left the biggest impact on that year’s Games.

Jesse Owens.
Jesse Owens. Photo By Universal History Archive/Shutterstock

In one of the most memorable performances in Olympic history, Owens managed to score gold in the 100 meters, long jump, 200 meters, and 4×100 meter relay. It was an accomplishment that wouldn’t be matched until Carl Lewis did the same thing at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Here are a few other tidbits about the athlete…

He Said President Franklin D. Roosevelt Snubbed Him

Right after the Berlin Games, a rumor began about Hitler being enraged at the triumph of an African American and refusing to congratulate Owens. He failed to shake the athlete’s hand after his victories. But, Owens said that the two actually exchanged congratulatory waves.

Jesse Owens (1913-1980), American athlete and winner of four gold medals in the 1936 Summer Olympics.
Jesse Owens (1913-1980), American athlete and winner of four gold medals in the 1936 Summer Olympics. Photo By Everett Collection/Shutterstock

In fact, it was President Roosevelt who snubbed the athlete. He never invited Owens to the White House or even acknowledged his triumphs. This left the Olympic champion disappointed. “It was our president who snubbed me,” he said. “The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”

His Mother Performed Surgery on Him With a Knife

Owens was the 10th and youngest child of poor sharecroppers and was a sickly child. The day after his 5th birthday, he grew a sizeable fibrous bump on his chest that started to press against his lungs.

Jesse James Cleveland Owens
Photograph of Jesse James Cleveland Owens the Us Athlete Pictured with His Olympic Oak-trees and Medals 1936. Owens Won Four Gold Medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics – the 100 Metres, 200 Metres, the Long Jump and the 4×100 Metres Relay. Photo By Historia/Shutterstock

She was unable to afford a doctor to remove the bump, so Owen’s parents decided to perform the surgery themselves. The poor kid bit down hard on a leather strap, and after his mother sterilized a kitchen knife, she carved into her son’s chest and removed a golf-ball sized growth. He lost a lot of blood but survived.

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