I can’t think of a more poignant way to kick-off the countdown of the top ten black sportsmen of all time than with none other than Olympic legend Jesse Owens.
The ‘Buckeye Bullet’ became the first track and field athlete to win four gold medals at an Olympic games in Berlin 1936, winning the 100m sprint, 200m sprint, the relay and the long jump.
Albeit, Jesse’s sporting achievements, as outstanding and ground-breaking as they were at the time, and still are today for that matter, do not tell the entire story. Far from it.
The Alabama-born Americans revolutionary performance at the games exposed Adolf Hitler’s ludicrous propaganda that Aryan people were the dominant race and hence would be the best athletes during the games.
The pressure on Owens must have been great, having to compete in Nazi Germany and endure the hostility that Hitlers segregation had created. Nevertheless, he showed that it was purely the skill and determination of the individual that allowed someone to excel, and that race was irrelevant. There was no dominant race and now Germany and the whole world knew it.
Naturally, Hitler wasn’t to thriller with the outcome and allegedly refused to shake hands with Owens, who responded:
“Although I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler, I wasn’t invited to the White house to shake hands with the President either.”
It’s clear which snub hurt Owens the most.
After the Olympics Owens was involved in various charities and became a much sought after inspirational speaker. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976, considered the greatest civilian award.
Jesse Owens died in March 1980 of complications from lung cancer – but his legacy lives on and he will always be a symbol against the tyranny, hypocrisy and racial insolence.