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Berlin, Germany- During Nazi Germany’s politically-charged environment, one man made history. He came, broke records, and left a significant mark on the world. At the Berlin Olympics in 1936, Owens became the first African-American to break a world record in Track and Field.
Owens was a formidable underdog who faced much discrimination and ridicule. Despite the obstacles, he trained with dedication and found success. As a junior at Ohio State University, Owens competed in 42 events and won them all. These competitions included four Big Ten events, four NCAA events, two AAU national events, and three U.S. Olympic Trials. With hard work and the support from his coach, he won four unprecedented gold medals in the Olympic Games.
In addition to being an ambassador of peace and a record-breaking athlete, Owens also became a racial ambassador. He raised the profile of African-Americans in sports and solidified the true notion of sportsmanship, which is about equality and respect for all. As an overcomer, he was well-respected worldwide. In 1976, Jesse was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award bestowed upon a civilian, by President Gerald R. Ford. Owens was also posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1990 by President George W. Bush.
Jesse Owens passed away on March 31, 1980 in Tucson, Arizona. Words of sorrow, sympathy and admiration poured in from all over the world. President Jimmy Carter said it best when he stated, “Perhaps no athlete better symbolized the human struggle against tyranny, poverty and racial bigotry (than Jesse Owens). His personal triumphs as a world-class athlete and record holder were the prelude to a career devoted to helping others. His work with young athletes, as an unofficial ambassador overseas, and a spokesman for freedom are a rich legacy to his fellow Americans.”
Now, over 80 years after his historic gold medal wins, Owens is still remembered as a global icon and a true African-American hero. He leaves behind a legacy of courage and excellence that transcends time. The Jesse Owens Foundation continues to carry on Jesse’s legacy by providing financial assistance, support and services to young individuals with untapped potential in order to develop their talents, broaden their horizons, and become better citizens.
Jesse Owens not only had an impressive performance in the 1936 Olympics, but he also earned the respect of millions around the world with his courageous overcoming of adversities and discrimination. His great achievements will always be remembered. Jesse’s life served as an inspiration to African-American athletes as well as others striving to make a mark of their own. Jesse Owens will always be an “All-In” Olympic legend.