My Greatest Olympic Prize
by Jesse Owens
Hitler’s ascendancy to the position of the Fuehrer of Germany was marked by a very strident assertion of genetic supremacy of the German race over all others. He proclaimed this theory with great vigor and conviction, and a vast majority of his people followed him blindly. In 1936, when Germany hosted the coveted Olympic Games, such hysteria of racial superiority was pervasive in the country. Hitler was at the forefront of a massive campaign to brainwash the Germans, so that they believed in this utterly flawed theory.
Hitler had boasted that his racially superior athletes would easily outclass their competitor from other countries. Jesse Owens, a star sprinter of the American contingent, invited particular wrath of Hitler because he was black. Hitler made no effort to conceal his scorn for Owens, and other such athletes from other countries.
In this story, Jesse Owens narrates how he turned the table on Hitler by running away with the Gold medal, when the distraught Fuehrer looked on.
The story …
In the build-up to the 1936 Olympics in a Berlin, Hitler had whipped up his favorite claim that Germans were a ‘master race’, destined to out-perform other people in all spheres of human endeavor.
Jesse Owens didn’t pay much heed to such xenophobic propaganda, because he had trained very hard for six long years for this Olympic in mind. On his voyage to Germany, he dreamed of winning one or two medals in the Games, and returning home triumphantly. As a fresher in the Ohio State University a year ago, he had achieved a world record of 26’ 81/4”. So, he was brimming with confidence as he headed for Berlin. Everyone expected him to return with laurels.
Jesse Owen’s confidence took a beating on seeing the tall German broad jumper by the name Luz Long. This, hitherto unknown athlete hit an impressive 26’ in the trial jump itself. Jesse was a bit edgy. It emerged that Hitler had kept Luz Long out of the limelight, so s to spring a surprise on other competitors.
The thought of losing to Luz Long troubled Jesse Owens, particularly because it would bolster Hitler’s claim of German race’s superiority. After all, Jesse was a Negro, and Luz Long belonged to the supposedly superior Aryan race. Jesse was determined to deny Hitler a chance to underscore his ‘master race’ theory.
Jesse Owen was livid from within. For an athlete entering a competition, anger can be a detriment. All coaches vouch for this. Jesse’s affected his performance. On the first of the three qualifying jumps, he committed an infringement. The second attempt was even worse. Jesse was utterly unhappy with himself. Getting eliminated in the qualifying rounds would be disgraceful. ‘He hadn’t travelled 3000 miles to embrace defeat even before beginning the fight,’ he murmured within.
To vent his anger with himself, Jesse kicked the ground hard. At this point of time, he felt a hand on his shoulders. It was that of Luz Long. He had qualified in his first attempt itself. Luz shook Jesse’s hands warmly.
Luz introduced himself to Jesse. Luz knew Jesse was very disturbed after his two missed chances in the qualifying round of broad jump. He wanted to know what really was troubling his rival, a Negro from far-off America. He wanted to instill the lost confidence of Jesse by some comforting words.
The duo had a friendly chat. Luz knew the pervasive air of Aryan supremacy in the arena was gnawing at Jesse’s soul, making him jittery and disoriented. Luz was a tall handsome German with an athletic body. Although he had a stint at the Nazi youth camp, where the inmates are indoctrinated with the notion of belonging to a ‘master race’, Luz had largely ignored the toxic preaching of racial superiority. He conveyed that he was not anyone with inborn superiority, but just honest hard-hitting athlete like his American Negro rival.
Luz’s words soothed the frayed nerves of Jesse. His anger and inner turmoil subsided. He went for his third and last attempt. Luz gave him a hint. He asked Jesse to draw a line a few inches behind the actual line. By starting off from this new line, Jesse could preempt any chance of overstepping and subsequent elimination from the contest. Luz knew, Jesse was too good a jumper to be worried by a few inches of loss. The main event was scheduled for the next day, and Jesse could calmly sail into the final show, if he managed to avoid another mis-step.
Luz’s words swept all the remaining anxiety from Jesse’s mind. He drew a line behind the board as suggested by Luz. He jumped, and qualified beating the qualifying mark by almost a foot!
Jesse went to Luz’s room in the evening to thank him profusely. The two athletes spoke at length about their passion with sport, their life, and the world situation. A strong bond of friendship developed between Jesse and Luz.
The next day was the day in which the two would clash, trying to outperform the other. However, Jesse knew Luz wanted him to put up his best, no matter if he lost out to him. It was a superlative feeling of sportsmanship and empathy.
In the event, Luz did spectacularly well by surpassing his own earlier record. It pushed Jesse to harder into the jump. Jesse reached a phenomenal leap of 26 feet 5-5/16 inches. It was an Olympic record that relegated Luz to the second place. However, Luz had a large heart. Instead of feeling bitter or jealous, he walked up to Jesse to congratulate him. The appreciation came from the depth of his heart. It was right under the gaze of Hitler who stood just a few yards away. Luz ignored the Fuerher’s possible ire.
Jesse was overwhelmed by Luz Long’s sportsmanship, fairness, and comradery. Luz’s gesture towards his athlete rival had baffled Jesse. Quite selflessly, Luz had helped Jesse to get over his initial hic-cups, and make his giant stride to the top. In the process, Luz lost. It was a sacrifice of the rarest kind. Undeniably, by prodding his rival to do his best, Luz had lost the chance to win the gold medal.
When Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympic Games, he had cherished this kind of sportsmanship, and fair-play to pervade the entire athletic world. Such values that drive an individual to push himself hard towards perfection are noble and golden. One can win or lose, get a gold, or a silver or a bronze, even not get anything at all. The Olympic spirit stands above all such considerations. It wants people of all races, colours and faiths, and from all lands to come together to give their best. Such open and fair-minded athletes foster enduring friendship that humanity so direly needs to quell the ever-spiraling hatred, rift and jealousy.
- What Jesse Owens considers to be his Greatest Olympic Prize and why?
- Describe Luz Long as an athlete.
- Why did Jesse commit two serious foul jumps in the qualifying round? [Answers will be posted on request.]