Born in Oakville, Alabama in 1913, James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens is most famously known in the sports world for competing in track and field and winning four gold medals at the “Hitler Olympics” in Berlin, Germany.

Photo Courtesy of Britannica.com

Owens was the youngest child of 10 and at the age of nine, his family moved from Northern Alabama to Cleveland, Ohio for better work opportunities. Originally known as “JC”, his nick-name famously derived from miscommunication. When his teacher was taking role for the school year, Owens told her that his name was “JC”, but because of his southern accent, his name was recorded as “Jesse”. 

After breaking the world 100-yard (91m) dash record in high school, Owens would go on to win eight individual NCAA championships at Ohio State University. While in Columbus, Owens competed, went to school and worked multiple odd jobs because Ohio State refused to give him a scholarship. 

Photo Courtesy of library.osu.edu

In 1935 at a Big Ten meet, Jesse Owens broke three separate world records in a span of 45 minutes. At the NCAA championship meet in Chicago of the following year, Owens beat yet another world-record, setting the new benchmark at 10.2 seconds.

Even though the “Buckeye Bullet” was one of the most successful athletes at the school, he and all other black athletes were not allowed to live on campus and were required to eat in “blacks-only” restaurants.

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In August of 1936, in the final Olympic games before the outbreak of World War II, Owens won the gold medal in 100-meter dash at 10.3 seconds. To win gold in the 200-meter dash, he out-ran American-teammate Mack Robinson, the older brother of baseball’s Jackie Robinson. The United States came in second to Germany in the medal count; however, the most decorated olympian to leave Berlin was Alabama’s own, Jesse Owens.

Once he returned to the United States, the American Olympic committee cut his amateur career short which would ban him from competition. The committee was enraged because Owens was receiving corporate sponsorships that he was using to provide for his family.

Jesse Owens was inducted into the Alabama sports Hall of Fame in 1970 and was apart of the inaugural class of the United States Olympic Hall of fame in 1983. Owens is a US Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and the track and field complex at Ohio State University was named after him in 2001.

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Each year, United States Track and Field (USATF) presents the Jesse Owens Award to the best male and female runner in the US.

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