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True Courage: Jesse Owens 75 Years Later


Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier debuting for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, before the "Miracle on Ice" at the height of the Cold War in 1980, Jesse Owens dominated the 1936 Olympic Games using sport as a vector to show the world that competitiveness, integrity and courage are some of the greatest characteristics of our human identity, unattached to a single skin color or race. On this day 75 years ago, Owens earned his fourth Gold Medal at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976 and his record four gold medals would stand until 1984 when Carl Lewis tied Owens' mark.

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The grandson of a slave, representing a country where he was still racially discriminated against, Owens crushed the competition in the 100- and 200-meter events, set an Olympic record in the long jump that would not be broken until 1960 and led off the 400 relay team that set a world record that would stand until 1956. Owens' accomplishments in Berlin were a repudiation of Hitler's belief that the games' results would prove the superiority of the German "Aryan" people. ESPN's Jeremy Schaap eloquently puts Owens' accomplishment:

"A second-class citizen at home, a subhuman in Germany, Jesse Owens fashioned the greatest of all sports achievements. To be clear, nothing he did at Olympic Stadium could prevent the horrors to come. He saved no lives. However, for those paying close attention, Owens revealed essential truths in Berlin.

While western democracies were perfecting the art of appeasement and much of the rest of the world kowtowed to the Nazis, Owens stood up to them at their own Olympics, refuting their venomous theories with his awesome deeds."

Where do you think Jesse Owens' 1936 Olympics performance ranks among the greatest sports achievements of all-time?

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