Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

The 1936 Olympics was held in Berlin, Germany. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party had risen to power three years earlier and were already to spread their evil beliefs of racism and hate.  Hitler believed that the “perfect” person was from an Aryan race…a blue-eyed, blond haired, the perfect physique without any blemishes or handicaps.

Hitler saw the Games as an opportunity to promote his government and ideals of racial supremacy to the world. The official Nazi party newspaper wrote in the strongest terms that Jews and Black people should not be allowed to participate in the Games.However, when threatened with a boycott of the Games by other nations, Hitler relented and allowed Black people and Jews to participate.

After much deliberation and debate whether or not to boycott the Olympics, the United States and other nations decided to participate in the Games.

One of the American athletes was a Track and Field star named Jesse Owens and he was black. Jesse Owens seemed sure to win the long jump at the 1936 games. The year before he had jumped 26 feet, 8 1/4 inches — a record that would stand for 25 years.

As he walked to the long-jump pit, however, Owens saw a tall, blue eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26-foot range. Owens felt nervous. He was acutely aware of the Nazis‘ desire to prove “Aryan superiority,” especially over blacks. At this point, the tall German introduced himself as Luz Long. “You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed!” he said to Owens, referring to his two jumps. For the next few moments the black son of a sharecropper and the white model of Nazi manhood chatted. Then, Long made a suggestion. Since the qualifying distance was only 23 feet, 5 1/2 inches, why not make a mark several inches before the takeoff board and jump from there, just to play it safe? Owens did and qualified easily. In the finals Owens set an Olympic record and earned the second of four gold medals.

The first person to congratulate him was Luz Long — in full view of Adolf Hitler. Hitler was furious and embarrassed. Owens never again saw Long, who was sent out to the front lines and was killed in World War II. “You could melt down all the medals and cups I have,” Owens later wrote, “and they wouldn’t be a platting on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long.”

~ David Wallechinsky in The Complete Book of the Olympics ~

As previously stated, Long was killed in action, seven years later, on July 14, 1943 fighting for Germany in World War 2 during the invasion of Sicily. Because of his sportsmanship, he was later awarded, posthumously, the Pierre de Coubertin Award. This award is given to former Olympic athletes by the Olympic Committee to recognize the spirit of sportsmanship through in Olympic events or through exceptional service to the Olympic movement.


This is an amazing story of how a friendship trumped the hatred and racism of a nation and a crazy man’s ideology! How thankful are you of the friends that you have? Could your friendship(s) withstand the “storms” of life and the hard times that might come your way? How much can you go out of your way to be a friend to someone in unpleasant situations? Everyone should remember that taking time to help a stranger…just ONE TIME…can lead to an everlasting friendship. REALLY good friends are hard to find…and if you have one…Be THANKFUL!

  10 comments for “Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics

  1. June 25, 2013 at 12:52 am

    Wow, that is a beautiful story, heart-warming but incredibly sad. Thanks for sharing it.


  2. June 25, 2013 at 1:19 am

    Wow, truly inspiring. Thank you for sharing!


  3. June 25, 2013 at 1:22 am

    Dear Coach,
    Hi how are you? I am truly impressed read this story. 🙂


    • June 25, 2013 at 1:32 am

      I hope you are doing well.Still coming to the NYC area in August? Let me know when. I would love to meet you!


      • June 25, 2013 at 1:34 am

        So far still on schedule,coach. Yes I will inform you later. Thank you 🙂


      • June 25, 2013 at 1:41 am

        I will be away for a week or so in August… I just hope that you are not coming during that week. 🙂


  4. June 25, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! The Jesse Owen story is very important to everyone.


  5. WordsFallFromMyEyes
    November 17, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    Isn’t it funny that the US, believer in white supremacy too at that time, considered boycotting the Games. How strange that is.

    Enjoyed this, Coach. WONDERFUL story (a piece of history I had not known).


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