Bill Ellis: The great Olympic star of 1936

August 19, 2016

I was just 6 years old when Jesse Owens starred in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. I did, however, meet that great track and field athlete in my mature years and in his older years.

Christopher Klein wrote about “10 Things You May Not Know About Jesse Owens” who was born on Sept. 12, 1913, in Oakville, Alabama. Adolf Hitler intended for these games to showcase the Nazi ideology of Aryan racial superiority. To the dictator’s surprise, it was a black man who won gold medals in one of the greatest of all performances in Olympic history by winning the 100 meters and long jump, the 200 and the 4 x 100 meter relay that would not be equaled until American Carl Lewis matched that record in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Klein also mentions that German shoemaker Adolf “Adi” Dassler made the track shoes Owens wore in his performances , with extra-long spikes. Ten years later Dassler started his own company to be known as Adidas, the maker of the world famous sports shoes.

In college, at Ohio State University, Owens set three world records and tied a fourth one, all within 45 minutes at the Big Ten Championships at Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 25, 1935. The sophomore started the meet by tying the world record in the 100-yard dash and then just 15 minutes later he set the world long jump record by nearly six inches. Within 30 minutes, he had set world records in both the 220-yard dash and the 220-yard low hurdles.

Owens, during his college years was nicknamed the “Buckeye Bullet” and became the first black man elected captain of an Ohio State varsity team. He was, however, barred from living in an on-campus dormitory because of the color of his skin. Imagine that in college he set three world records and tied a fourth within 45 minutes.

His friend and former track competitor of the University of Michigan, Willis Ward, brought Owens to Detroit to work at Ford Motor Company in 1942 as assistant personnel director and later becoming director and working there until 1946.

Jesse Owens died on March 31, 1970, in Tucson, Arizona, and is buried in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois. His height was 5 feet and 10 inches and he weighed 165 pounds. He had six brothers and sisters. His wife was Ruth and their children were Gloria, Beverly and Marlene.

Jesse Owens has been a sports hero for me, ranking high with Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Yes, I have watched the current Olympics every day. I am glad for the privilege of meeting Jesse Owens. The Bible has much to say about running and two of my favorite verses are Isaiah 40:31 and Hebrews 12:1.

Bill Ellis can be reached at P.O. Box 345, Scott Depot, WV 25560; phone 304-757-6089.