Jesse Owens

Runner / Olympian

Born: 12 September 1913
Died: 31 March 1980 (cancer)
Birthplace: Oakville, Alabama
Best known as: The black sprinter who won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics

Name at birth: James Cleveland Owens

Jesse Owens is remembered for one stunning week in 1936, when he won four track and field gold medals at a single Olympics. The Summer Games that year were held in Berlin, where Nazi leader Adolf Hitler seemed determined to display the superiority of the German "Aryan" race. Owens, an African-American, put that notion to rest with victories in the 100- and 200-meter dash, the broad jump and the 4x100-meter relay. The performance made him both an Olympic hero and a lasting symbol of black pride. In 1976, President Gerald Ford awarded Owens the prestigious Medal of Freedom.

Extra credit: Owens got the name "Jesse" when a teacher misunderstood his initials, J.C... He was the first American to win four track and field medals in one Olympics... His father was a sharecropper and his grandfather a slave... Owens was a star sprinter at Ohio State University... The 1936 Olympics also featured a more controversial Ohioan, Stella Walsh.

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