Following American sprinter-Jessie Owens’ triumphant gold medal run in the men’s 100-meter of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Adolf Hitler, the author of the Aryan Supremacy theory declared: “The Americans should be ashamed of themselves letting Negroes win their medals for them. I shall not shake hands with this Negro.”
True to his words, the Fuhrer and his Nazi cohorts did not shake Owens’ hand. Why, Owens was not even allowed to make the traditional “victory lap,” a ceremonial run around the oval accorded to an event winner. On that same day, Owens, the son of an Alabama cotton picker, was to also compete in the qualifying and final rounds of the broad jump. His main opponent in the event happened to be Hitler’s most prized athlete in the person of Luz Long.
Owens, the world record-holder in the event fouled in his first two of only three attempts to make it into the finals. Meaning failure to make the qualifying standard in his third and last try would not only disqualify to the medal play, but, likewise, justify Hitler’s misplaced theory, his main reason in bidding to make Berlin the host of that Summer Games’ edition.
After Owens’ second foul. Long approached him and in a very friendly manner asked him what’s bothering him. He German even offered him advice to start farther back in his approach to avoid being called foul again. He heeded his rival’s advice, advanced to the medal jump and went on to beat his new friend for the gold on an Olympic record 26’ 5 1/2” effort.
The two embraced each other after the event in front of Hitler and the predominantly pro-East German crowd in what might have infuriated their Fuhrer more.
The two men cemented their new-found friendship later in the Olympic Village, talking well into the night about athletics and art, about race and politics. Truly a picture of great moments of two competitors of different races different allegiances finding sports as a common ground for understanding.
“It was so gracious of him (Long),” Jessie, an Ohio State University track and field standout, recalled in an interview in 1951 when the idea of a one-hour documentary Jessie Owens Returns to Berlin was introduced by Olympic chronicler Bud Greenspan.
“After my victory was secured, Luz was the first to greet me, we walked arm in arm in front of Hitler’s box. Hitler must have been crazy watching us embrace. What is dad of the story is I never saw Luz Lon again. He was killed in World War II,” he recalled.
Owens, then 22, outshone every other athletes in the Games adding the 200-meer dash to his individual gold medal collection besides leading, too, the US 4×10 relay team to victory for his historic and then unprecedented four-gold haul.
On that 1951 occasion, Jessie was made to run the victory lap denied him by Hitler 15 years ago amidst the chant of …. “ JESSIE OWENS …. JESSIE OWENS …. JESSIE OWENS …. by the 80,000 people that filled he Berlin Olympic Stadium, the same venue where he wrote his name in the history of the “Greatest Sports Show On Earth.”
As soon as Owens completed his run around the 400-meter turf waving to the crowd and slowly approached the first row box, where Hitler held his court watching the 1936 Games proceedings and where then West Berlin Mayor Ernst Reuter was seated that day.
Mayor Reuter held up Jessie’s hand, picked up the microphone and blurted out: “Jessie Owens … fifteen years ago, Hitler refused to shake your hand (and make you run the victory lap)… I will try to make up for it today by taking both of them.”
The Mayor then reached out and embraced Jessie as he crowd continued to chant … “Jessie Owens … Jessie Owens … Jessie Owens … “
Born September 12, 1913, Owens passed away on he same day at age 67.