This Day in History - August 9! - Owens wins his 4th gold medal
August 9, 1936 - Berlin's Olympic Stadium hosts one of the most dramatic and politically significant events in Olympic history. No expense was spared by Adolf Hitler to promote the games in Nazi terms of Aryan racial superiority. But Ohio State's Jesse Owens confounded the Fuhrer's dogma. Hitler had referred to Blacks as an inferior race. Owens looked far from inferior when he won the 100 and 200 meters, the long jump and a relay. He and several other Black teammates forced a humiliated Hitler to excuse himself from the stadium to avoid having to congratulate them. In their strong showing in track-and-field events at the XIth Olympiad, Jesse Owens and other African American athletes struck a propaganda blow against Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, who planned to use the Berlin Games as a showcase of supposed Aryan superiority.
Born the son of Alabama sharecroppers in 1913, Owens emerged as a major track talent while attending high school in Cleveland, Ohio. Later, at Ohio State University, he demonstrated himself to be one of the greatest athletes in the world. In a single day of competition--May 25, 1935--Owens broke the world records for the 220-yard dash, the 220-yard low hurdles, and the running broad jump, and equaled the world record for the 100-yard dash. The next summer, Owens and 311 other American athletes, including 17 African Americans, traveled to Nazi Germany to represent the United States at the XIth Olympiad.
In 1931, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1936 Summer Olympics to Berlin. The choice was meant to signal Germany's return to the world community after defeat in World War I. Two years later, however, Adolf Hitler came to power. Seen as an opportunity to advance Nazi ideology, Hitler provided extensive funding for the Berlin Games, which promised to be the largest modern Olympics to date. On August 1, 1936, Adolf Hitler opened the XIth Olympiad. The Olympic ritual of a runner arriving bearing a torch carried by relay from Olympia, Greece, occurred for the first time. The Nazis advertised this ceremony as a symbol of the myth that German civilization was the inheritor of the glorified culture of ancient Greece.
With 348 athletes, Germany had the largest national team and captured the most medals overall, greatly pleasing Hitler. The Americans, however, dominated the popular track-and-field events. On the first day of competition, Hitler, who had been congratulating German and select other winners, left the stadium shortly after three African Americans swept the high-jump event. Whether Hitler left to avoid shaking hands with non-Aryans is unclear. In the aftermath of the incident, Olympic organizers asked Hitler to either receive all the medal winners or none, and he chose the latter.
Although only 23, Jesse Owens retired from amateur competition shortly after the Berlin Olympics in order to capitalize on his fame. This effectively brought his athletic career to an end. He later engaged in boys'-guidance activities, made goodwill visits to Asia for the U.S. Department of State, and served as secretary of the Illinois State Athletic Commission. He died in 1980.