August 4, 1936 Jesse Owens wins long jump–and respect–in Germany
On this day in 1936, American Jesse Owens wins gold in the long jump at the Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. It was the second of four gold medals Owens won in Berlin, as he firmly dispelled German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler’s notion of the superiority of an Aryan “master race,” for all the world to see.
Jesse Owens first made his mark on the international stage at just 21 years old on May 25, 1935, while an undergrad at Ohio State University, by setting three world records and tying another at the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “The Buckeye Bullet” started his afternoon by running the 100-meter dash in just 9.4 seconds to tie the world record. Just 10 minutes later, Owens jumped 26’8 1/4″, setting a world record he would hold until 1951. And, ten minutes after that, Owens set another world record in the 220-yard dash with a time of 20.3 seconds. Finally, less than an hour after his afternoon of competition started, Owens ran the 220-yard hurdles in 22.6 seconds for his third outright world record of the day. Owens’ impressive performance caused a sensation across the United States, and the track world looked forward to following his progress at the upcoming 1936 Olympics.
Owens was openly derided by Nazi officials prior to his arrival in Berlin; some went so far as to call him and his fellow black athletes “non-humans.” Owens responded on August 3, when he edged out African-American Ralph Metcalfe to win the 100 meters in an impressive10.3 seconds, a time that would have set the world record if had not been deemed “wind-aided.” The next day, August 4, at the Reich Sports Field Stadium, 110,000 spectators watched Owens slam the door on Hitler’s racist theories. In the morning, after fouling on his first two qualifying jumps, Owens finally leaped his way into the final, where he met the young German Lutz Long. Long tied the heavily favored Owens on his second jump, but Owens answered the challenge with a mark of 26’ 5 ½”, the first jump over 26 feet in Olympic history, and an Olympic record that would stand for 24 years. As Owens and Lutz walked arm in arm around the track, the German crowd roared its approval. Hitler promptly left the stadium, missing the medal ceremony.
Owens would win his third gold medal and set his second Olympic record of the games in the 200 meters the next day. On August 9, he followed that up by helping his team set a new world record–39.8 seconds–in the 4 x 100 meter relay. Owens and Metcalfe replaced two American Jews, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, originally scheduled to run the relay that day. Later, the U.S. team was criticized for the move, which was thought to be an appeasement of Hitler and the Nazi party, who would likely have been even angrier to see Jews, already a frequent target of Nazi hate and harassment, bring home a medal.