When he was competing, Ohio State track star James (“J.C.” Jesse) Cleveland Owens (1913-1980) was as famous and admired as Carl Lewis, Tiger Woods, or Michael Jordan are today. (1996 Olympic champ Carl Lewis has been called the “second Jesse Owens.”) Despite Jesse Owens" athletic prowess, he faced racial discrimination when he returned to the US. But did this discrimination in his native land extend to his experience in Germany?
Jesse Owens triumphed in Berlin, winning gold medals in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 400-meter relays, as well as in the long jump. But the fact that American athletes competed in the 1936 Olympics at all is still considered by many to be a blotch on the history of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Germany"s open discrimination against Jews and other “non-Aryans” was already public knowledge when many Americans opposed U.S. participation in the “Nazi Olympics.” Opponents to U.S. participation included the American ambassadors to Germany and Austria. But those who warned that Hitler and the Nazis would use the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin for propaganda purposes lost the battle to have the U.S. boycott the Berlin Olympiade.
Myths and Truth: Jesse Owens in German
Hitler did shun a black American athlete at the 1936 Games. On the first day of the Olympics, just before Cornelius Johnson, an African-American athlete who won the first gold medal for the U.S. that day, was to receive his award, Hitler left the stadium early.
(The Nazis later claimed it was a previously scheduled departure.)
Prior to his departure, Hitler had received a number of winners, but Olympic officials informed the German leader that in the future he must receive all of the winners or none at all. After the first day, he opted to acknowledge none.
Jesse Owens had his victories on the second day, when Hitler was no longer in attendance. Would Hitler have snubbed Owens had he been in the stadium on day two? Perhaps. But since he wasn"t there, we can only surmise.
Which brings us to another Olympic myth. It is often stated