At Ohio State University, the greatest 45 minutes in sports
At the 1935 Big Ten Conference Track and Field Championships, Jesse Owens put forth one of the most spectacular athletic performances of all time. In less than one hour, he set three world records and tied a fourth, winning titles in the 100-yard dash, long jump, 220-yard dash and 220-yard hurdles.
The desire to be the fastest man in the world
When the U.S. delegation arrived in Berlin, Owens appeared relaxed as he trained in the Olympic Village. He later acknowledged that the pressure was most intense for his first final of the Games, the 100 meters on Monday, August 3. Although he had set the world record two months earlier, Owens wanted to be known as the fastest man in the world.
Event No. 1: the 100 meters
It was thought that Owens’ stiffest competition in the 100 would have been fellow American Eulace Peacock, but Peacock sustained an injury and did not compete in Berlin. Instead, it was another U.S. sprinter, Ralph Metcalfe, who would be Owens’ chief competitor in the race.
Tying an Olympic record
Owens had run a 10.2 in the semifinals, which would have matched his own world record except that this time was considered wind-aided. In the final, Owens got out to a considerable lead and held on to beat a hard-charging Metcalfe at the line, tying the Olympic record of 10.3 seconds.
With pressure mounting in the long jump, an unusual friendship
The following day, Tuesday, August 4, Owens fouled in his first two attempts, putting considerable pressure on himself as he would need a qualifying score on his next jump to remain in the competition. German Luz Long, the blond-haired European record holder, approached Owens and recommended taking one step back before beginning his approach.
One step back, then full speed ahead
Following Long’s advice, Owens found success and he and Long advanced through the competition. Long topped out at 25 feet 10 inches, but Owens went on to jump 26-5, a new Olympic record. “He was my strongest rival yet it was he who advised me to adjust my run-up in the qualifying round and thereby helped me to win,” Owens said later.
A bond that lasted a lifetime
Long and Owens were seen together throughout Berlin over the course of the Games and they continued to correspond until Long was killed in action during World War II. Long’s final letter to Owens asked that Owens tell Long’s young son about their friendship. Owens later was the best man in Kai Long’s wedding.
Three gold medals in three days
The same day as winning gold in long jump, Owens advanced through the 200 preliminary heats. The following day, Wednesday, August 5, Owens made it three gold medals in three days, capturing the 200 in an Olympic record 20.7 seconds, one-half second better than silver medalist Mack Robinson, the older brother of soon-to-be baseball star Jackie Robinson.
Would there be a chance for a fourth gold medal?
There was controversy surrounding Owens’ fourth gold medal in Berlin, but it had nothing to do with the actual competition. Leading up to the Games, despite clearly being two of Team USA’s top sprinters, neither Owens nor Ralph Metcalfe were part of the U.S. 4x100 relay team. But Coach Lawson Robertson made a late change, inserting Owens and Metcalfe for Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman. There never was an official explanation for taking the only two Jewish athletes on Team USA out of competition in Nazi Germany.
Owens runs the first leg of the 4x100 relay as Team USA obliterates the world record
Having matched the world record of 40 seconds in a preliminary heat, the U.S. team took things one step further in the final. Owens staked Team USA to an early lead and Frank Wykoff turned in a blazing anchor leg for a new world record of 39.8 seconds that would stand for the next 20 years. It was the third consecutive gold medal in the event for Wykoff, but perhaps most impressive was that Owens had competed in 10 races in Berlin and finished first each time.
A performance that went unmatched for nearly 50 years
Owens was a special guest of honor (above) at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games. It would be another 12 years until Carl Lewis matched Owens’ incredible performance with four gold medals at Los Angeles 1984. The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee in 2016 created the Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award to honor an individual who has served as a powerful force for good in society, inspiring others by contributing to a better world, uniting people or leading a cause.

Virtual Exhibit: Jesse Owens’ incredible performance at Berlin 1936

The day after winning three events at the 1936 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, Jesse Owens met legendary baseball player Babe Ruth at a dinner honoring the Olympic athletes.

Ruth, the New York Yankees’ slugger, would retire as the leading home run hitter in Major League Baseball. He knew of Owens’ dominance – including the “greatest 45 minutes ever in sports” – and asked Owens if he was going to win Olympic gold.

“I will try,” Owens replied, according to the Jesse Owens Museum.

“Everybody tries; I succeed,” Ruth said. “Why? Because I know I’m going to hit a home run just about every time I swing the bat. Because I know it. The pitchers, they know it too. Know, Jesse, that you will win!”

Indeed, Owens did win.

At the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games, against a backdrop of racial discrimination in Nazi Germany, Owens won four gold medals – a feat that went unmatched for nearly 50 years.

On successive days, Owens won gold in the 100 meters, the long jump and the 200 meters. Four days later, Owens was a late addition to the 4×100-meter relay team that set a world record that stood for 20 years.

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