Jesse Owens Biography: Olympics, Facts & Life

Jesse Owens Biography, Facts & Life
Jesse Owens biography, accomplishments, facts, and how he changed the world.

Late Jesse Owens was one phenomenal athlete in his sprinting days. His achievement throughout his career still echoes in eternity long after his death. 

Owens was inspiring during his sprinting days. However, only a few of the athletic world knows a full account of his story and how Jesse Owens changed the world. 

This article summarizes Jesse Owens biography facts, childhood, family/personal life, and his famous triumph in the 1936 Olympics, where he won gold to prove Adolf Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy wrong.

Jesse Owens Biography Facts

Full Name:James Cleveland Owens
Nickname:The Buckeye Bullet; J.C.
Born:12 September 1913
Place of Birth:Oakville, Alabama, United States
Died:31 March 1980 (aged 66)
Education:Ohio State University; Fairmont Junior High School; East Technical High School
Sport:Track and Field
Events:Sprint; Long Jump
Olympics Gold Medals:1936 Berlin (100 m; 200 m; 4×100 m relay; Long jump)
Wife:Late M. Ruth Solomon (m. 1935–1980)
Children:Gloria Owens (b. 1932); Marlene Owens (b. 1939); Beverly Owens (b. 1940)

Jesse Owens Early Life & Childhood Story

On September 12, 1913, James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens was born to Henry Cleveland and Mary Emma Fitzgerald in Oakville, Alabama. He was the youngest of ten children, seven boys, and three girls. His father was a sharecropper, and his grandfather, a slave. 

As a child, Owens was frail, frequently getting sick as he battle ailments of chronic bronchial congestion and pneumonia. However, despite his health issues, little Owens had to work to support the family. At the tender age of seven, he was picking close to 100 pounds of cotton a day to aid in food provision for the family.

The year Owens clocked nine years of age, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. There he was exposed to a much bigger and developed world, different from Oakville’s urban regions, where he grew up. 

School proved to be one of the most significant changes to little Owens. He was exposed to different people and an entirely different atmosphere. School was where he earned the nickname that he would be remembered by, for the rest of his life. His teacher had mistaken his pronunciation of “J.C.” for “Jesse” due to his thick southern accent.

Jesse Owens Education & Rise to Stardom

Owens attended the East Technical High School. He established himself as one of the nationally recognized sprinters after setting records in the 100 and 200-yard dashes and the long jump. Upon graduation, he enrolled at Ohio State University. His father had then found employment, meaning his family’s financial condition had improved, allowing him to further his education.

At University, he continued his Sprint endeavors and flourished. He was affectionately known as the “Buckeye Bullet,” and at the 1935 Big Ten Championships, he put in a series of impressive performances that alerted his presence to the athletic world. 

Owens had just recovered from a severe tailbone injury to equal a world record in the 100-yard dashes and set a world record that would later stand for 25 years. He also set new records in the 220-yard dash event and 220-yard low hurdles. Owens dominated the Big Ten games that year; recording wins in four events at the NCAA Championships, two wins at the AAU Championships, and three wins at the Olympic trials. In total, Owens had competed in 42 events in the 1935 calendar year, winning in every event he competed.

Jesse Owens 1936 Olympics triumph & How he Changed the World

Sprinter Athlete Jesse Owens Facts and Accomplishments
Photo: WikiImages/Pixabay

After assuming power as chancellor of Germany in 1933, Adolf Hitler immediately started executing plans in preparation for the 1936 Summer and Winter Olympics. However, his move instead suggested the Olympics was just another platform for the showcase of his regime. Construction on the building of a new stadium and completion of an airport, which was to be used during the Olympics in welcoming international visitors, commenced.

The 1936 Olympic was one of a kind, different from those previously held in the past as it would become the first televised Olympics event around the world. It was as well the first Olympics to feature the Olympics torch process which became a tradition in consecutive Olympics that followed.

As the Germans were in the preparation making process to host the first televised Olympic event, the United States was also preparing to participate. By performance statistics, Owens was clearly qualified to compete in the Olympics. However, being a good athlete sadly wasn’t enough for him. Being black almost cost him a chance to showcase his worth on the global scene as American decision-makers, who were aware of Hitler’s discriminatory policies, contemplated boycotting the Olympic tournament.

American Olympic Committee head, Avery Brundage saved the day, insisting that American athletes’ decision to participate in the Olympics wasn’t to be decided by politicians but athletes, as the Games were for athletes.

Owens, who had grown up in an unequal society of racism, considered the choice to compete in the Olympics hypocritical and a challenge. He wouldn’t withdraw from competing when he was fit and perfect to participate just because he was black. Instead, he openly expressed his desire to participate in the event, although it drew condemnation from African American publications and NAACP head, Walter White.

Jesse Owens Won Gold to Prove Hitler Wrong

The Olympics no sooner commenced and thus came the moment of Owens’ truth. From the onset of the event, he impressed the spectators with his brilliance on the track. In his first event, the 100-meter dash, he clinched the gold medal and followed it up with a controversial victory over host country champion Luz Long in the long jump category.

He picked his third gold medal of the event in the 200-meter dash, thus setting an Olympic record. Then he rounded up his phenomenal performance with a record-shattering opening leg 4×100-meter relay performance victory, thus becoming the first American to record four gold medals in track and field at a single Olympic. That feat stood until Carl Lewis equaled him in 1984.

Owens’ whopping, unexpected wins in the Olympics upstaged Hitler’s prized Aryan athletes and defied Hitler’s vision of Aryan supremacy. In reaction to Owens’ success, Hitler declined to publicly congratulate any athletes after the first day, where he congratulated only German athletes.

The story of Owen’s 1936 Olympic success became renowned and lives on to this day. Although Jesse Owens didn’t halt the Germans’ weapon machinations, he convincingly hurt Hitler and his countrymen’s pride as he stole the Olympic spotlight.

ALSO SEE: Top-10 Fastest Runners In The World

Jesse Owens Personal/Family Life

Before achieving international fame in the 1936 Olympics, Owens married his high school sweetheart Ruth Solomon on July 5, 1935. They had met at Fairmont Junior High School in Cleveland and dated through their high school days. 

Together with his wife, they had their first daughter Gloria in 1932 and two more daughters, Marlene (b. 1939) and Beverly (b. 1940). The couple remained married until he died in 1980. Ruth passed away in 2001.

10 Jesse Owens Facts You Should Know

Fact #1. A movie in 2016 was released depicting Owens’ journey to Olympic fame.

Fact #2. Jesse Owens was the grandson of a slave.

Fact #3. When Jesse Owens was five, he had a fibrous bump developed on his chest, which was pressing against his lungs. His family, unable to afford a doctor, opted to perform the surgery themselves. His mother used a sterilized kitchen and carved an opening in his chest, pulling out a golf size bump. Owens lost a lot of blood but survived.

Fact #4. Owens set a Junior High School jump and broad records in 1928.

Fact #5. Owens won the Ohio State Championship track events three consecutive times.

Fact #6. The records Jesse Owens set at Ohio State University earned Owens the nickname “Buckeye Bullet.”

Fact #7. During the 1936 Olympics, he competed wearing the shoes made by the very founder of Adidas, Dassler.

Fact #8. Jesse Owens was captain of his University team. However, because he was black, he was prevented from living in the on-campus dorms.

Fact #9. During his sprinting varsity days, Owens set three world records and equaled another within 45 minutes.

Fact #10. A street outside the Olympics stadium where Jesse Owens won his record four gold medals in Berlin, Germany, was renamed Jesse-Owens-Allee in 1984 to honor and immortalize him.

SEE MORE: Biography facts and profiles of famous athletes

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