Jesse Owens Biography

(American Track and Field Athlete Who Won Four Gold Medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics)

Birthday: September 12, 1913 (Virgo)

Born In: Oakville, Alabama, United States

James Cleveland Owens, or simply Jesse Owens as the world knows him, was one of the greatest sporting legends who has to his name several world records and achievements. His achievements in 1936 Berlin Olympics track and field competitions remained unmatched for a large period of time, making him as the most glorious track and field athlete of his days. However, sadly, much of the recognition and acknowledgement came late in life or mostly posthumously for Owens, due to the racism meted out to African American community in those days. Nevertheless, one can never overlook or forget his contribution in the 1935 and 1936 Big Ten Championships and most importantly the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. His record at the 1935 Big Ten Championship in the long jump event with a leap of 8.13 m stood for almost 25 years before Ralph Boston broke it in 1960. Also, his four gold medals haul at Berlin Summer Olympics was equalled by Carl Lewis only in 1984. To commemorate his contribution and glorious feat in track and field, a Jesse Owen Awards was created to honor best track and field athlete by the US every year. It is the USA Track and Field's highest accolade that one can achieve. To know more about Jesse Owens life and sporting actions, read on.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: James Cleveland Owens

Died At Age: 66


Spouse/Ex-: Minnie Ruth Solomon (m. 1935–1980)

father: Henry Cleveland Owens

mother: Mary Emma Fitzgerald

siblings: Ernest, Henry, Ida, Johnson, Josephine, Lillie, Prentice, Quincy, Sylvester

children: Marlene

Born Country: United States

African American Men African American Athletes

Height: 5'10" (178 cm), 5'10" Males

Died on: March 31, 1980

place of death: Tucson, Arizona, United States

Ancestry: Indian American

Grouping of People: Smoker

Cause of Death: Lung Cancer

Notable Alumni: East Technical High School, Fairmont Junior High School

U.S. State: Alabama

More Facts

education: Ohio State University, East Technical High School, Fairmont Junior High School

awards: 1976 - Presidential Medal of Freedom
1990 - Congressional Gold Medal

  • 1

    What was Jesse Owens' impact on the 1936 Berlin Olympics?

    Jesse Owens made history by winning four gold medals in track and field events, defying Adolf Hitler's belief in Aryan supremacy and showcasing African American athletic excellence.

  • 2

    How did Jesse Owens' achievements impact the civil rights movement?

    Jesse Owens' success on the world stage challenged racial stereotypes and inspired African Americans to pursue their dreams despite facing discrimination, becoming a symbol of resilience and excellence.

  • 3

    What challenges did Jesse Owens face during his athletic career?

    Jesse Owens encountered racism and segregation in both sports and society, overcoming obstacles to become one of the greatest athletes in history through hard work and determination.

  • 4

    What was the significance of Jesse Owens' Olympic performance in terms of sports history?

    Jesse Owens' achievements at the 1936 Olympics shattered records and barriers, demonstrating the power of sport to transcend political ideologies and inspire generations of athletes to strive for greatness.

  • 5

    How did Jesse Owens' legacy influence future generations of athletes?

    Jesse Owens' legacy as a trailblazer for African American athletes and a symbol of sportsmanship and perseverance continues to inspire individuals worldwide to overcome adversity and pursue their dreams with passion and dedication.

Childhood & Early Life
Jesse Owens was born as James Cleveland Owens to Henry Cleveland Owens and Mary Emma Fitzgerald in Oakville, Alabama. He was the youngest of the ten children of the couple.
At the age of nine, his family relocated to Cleveland, Ohio for better opportunities. It was while enrolling at school that his teacher mistook his name ‘J. C’ as ‘Jesse’, which remained with him for the rest of his life.
In his early days, he indulged in various odd jobs to earn money. During this time, he realized his passion for running, which was further propelled by Charles Riley, his junior high track coach.
While at school, he competed at the 1933 National High School Championship in Chicago, an event that pushed him to instant limelight. He earned national attention for equalling the world record in 100-yard dash and his impressive performance in long jump.
He then enrolled at the Ohio State University to pursue his career as an athlete. Popularly referred to as ‘Buckeye Bullet’, he won four individual events at the NCAA championships in 1935, thus creating a major record.
The big breakthrough came in at the Big Ten Championship, during which he created new world records at: long jump (8.13 m), 220-yard sprint and 220-yard low hurdles. He also equalled the world record for the 100-yard dash with 9.4 seconds.
Furthering the success of the year, he won two events at the AAU Championships and three events at the Olympic trials. At the end of the year, his record stood at participating in 42 events and winning them all.
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In 1936, he competed in the NCAA Championship winning four events yet again, thus making a total of eight event victories in 1935 and 1936. Same year, he also participated in the Berlin Olympics.
Interestingly, through 1936 Berlin Olympics, Adolf Hitler intended to showcase the Nazi German domination and power. Nazi propaganda created hype about alleged ‘Aryan racial superiority’. However, Owens, changed this perception by winning four gold medals.
He participated in four events at the Berlin Olympics, winning each of them. While at the 100m sprint he created a world record at 10.3 seconds, in the long jump with a leap of 8.05 m, he became the No. 1 player. He also won 200 m (20.7 seconds), and 4x100 m relay (39.8s).
Unlike earlier when he had to lodge in at ‘black-only’ hotels and eat at ‘black-only’ restaurants, the victory at the Berlin Olympics changed the perception of people as he was allowed to stay at the same hotel with other White athletes or eat at the same joint. He was also offered a sponsorship by Adidas athletic shoe company for promoting the Gebr�der Dassler Schuhfabrik shoes.
After the Berlin Olympics, the American Olympic team and Owens were invited to compete in Sweden. However, Owens decided to return to the United States in order to capitalize on his athletic success by gaining some lucrative commercial deals. As a result, he was ripped of his amateur status, which marked an end to his flourishing track and field career.
Owens was also not honoured by the then President Franklin Roosevelt who neither invited him to the White House as was atypical for champions, nor congratulated him for the superlative success. It was only in 1955 that President Dwight D. Eisenhower honoured him by naming him an ‘Ambassador of Sports’.
In 1946, he initiated the formation of the West Coast Baseball Association (WCBA), along with Abe Saperstein. Additionally, he became the Vice-President and the owner of the Portland (Oregon) Rosebuds franchise.
Through the later part of his career, he worked as an entertainer and sports promoter. He raced against racehorses and local sprinters to earn his bread and butter. He even ran a dry cleaning business and worked as a gas station attendant.
It was only later that the US government appointed him as the US goodwill ambassador. He travelled frequently around the country to speak at conventions and other business gatherings.
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Major Wins
He created a world record in the 1935 Big Ten Championship in the long jump with a leap of 8.13 m that remained for 25 years until it was broken by Olympian Ralph Boston in 1960.
In the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, he participated in four events, winning gold in all of them and creating world record in two. This extraordinary feat in track and field was equalled only in 1984 Summer Olympics by Carl Lewis.
Awards & Achievements
In 1970, he was inducted in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1976, he was conferred with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom. Same year, he was made part of the Olympic Order for his fight against racism.
Posthumously, he was bestowed with the highest US decoration, Congressional Medal of Freedom. An asteroid discovered in 1980 was named after him.
In 1983, he was inducted in the US Olympic Hall of Fame. He has to his credit two U.S. postage stamps, issued in 1990 and 1998.
Several streets, roadways, schools, institutions, parks and stadiums have been named after him to commemorate his contribution as a track and field athlete. A statue of him wearing the Ohio State track suit has been installed at Fort Huntington Park.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married his high school sweetheart Minnie Ruth Solomon in 1935, after years of dating. The couple was blessed with three daughters, one before marriage in 1932 and two later, in 1939 and 1940, respectively.
An avid smoker, he puffed a pack per day and continued the same for 35 years before being hospitalized for extremely aggressive case of lung cancer in December 1979.
He died on March 31, 1980,
Facts About Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens was known for his exceptional speed and agility, but he also had a unique superstition of carrying around a lucky rabbit's foot before his races.

Owens was not only a talented athlete, but he also had a passion for music and played the piano in his spare time.

Despite facing discrimination and segregation during his athletic career, Owens maintained a positive attitude and used his platform to advocate for equality and social justice.

Owens had a soft spot for animals and was known to rescue stray dogs and cats, showing his compassionate nature off the track.

See the events in life of Jesse Owens in Chronological Order

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