James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was an American track and fieldathlete who specialized in the sprints and the long jump. He participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics inBerlin, Germany, where he achieved international fame by winning four gold medals: one each in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and as part of the 4x100 meter relay team. He was the most successful athlete at the 1936 Summer Olympics.
In 1936, Owens arrived in Berlin to compete for the United States in the Summer Olympics. Adolf Hitler was using the games to show the world a resurgent Nazi Germany. He and other government officials had high hopes that German athletes would dominate the games with victories (the German athletes achieved a "top of the table" medal haul).
- On August 3, he won the 100m sprint with a time of 10.3s, defeating Ralph Metcalfe by a tenth of a second.
- On August 4, he won the long jump with a leap of 26 ft 5 in (later crediting his achievement to the technical advice he received from Luz Long, the German competitor whom he defeated).
- On August 5, he won the 200m sprint with a time of 20.7s, defeating Mack Robinson (the older brother of Jackie Robinson).
- On August 9, Owens won his fourth gold medal in the 4x100 sprint relay when coach Dean Cromwell replaced sprinters Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller with Owens and Ralph Metcalf, who teamed with Frank Wykoff and Foy Draper to set a world record of 39.8s in the event.
In 1935 (the year before the Berlin Olympics), Jesse Owens set the world record in the long jump with a leap of 26 ft 8 in, and this record would stand for 25 years (a very rare length of time for a track and field record), until it was finally broken by Ralph Boston in 1960.
Just before the competitions, Owens was visited in the Olympic village by Adi Dassler, the founder of the Adidas athletic shoe company. He persuaded Owens to use Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik shoes, the first sponsorship for a male African-American athlete.
The long-jump victory is documented, along with many other 1936 events, in the 1938 film Olympia by Leni Riefenstahl.
On the first day of competition, Hitler shook hands only with the German victors and then left the stadium. Olympic committee officials insisted Hitler greet every medalist or none at all. Hitler opted for the latter and skipped all further medal presentations. On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories, and had refused to shake his hand, Owens said at the time:
"Hitler had a certain time to come to the stadium and a certain time to leave." "It happened he had to leave before the victory ceremony after the 100 meters. But before he left I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me and I waved back. I think it was bad taste to criticize the 'man of the hour' in another country."