Owens, Jesse

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Owens, Jesse

Jesse Owens, 1913–80, U.S. track star, b. Alabama. He was also called John Cleveland Owens, although his original name was said to be simply J. C. Owens. After his family moved to Cleveland he excelled at track and field events in high school. He won the broad-jump titles at the outdoor (1933–34) and indoor (1934–35) meets of the National Amateur Athletic Union, and while on the track team of Ohio State Univ., he broke (1935–36) several world records at broad jumping, hurdle racing, and flat racing. At the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Owens astounded the world and upset Hitler's "Aryan" theories by equaling the world mark (10.3 sec) in the 100-meter race, by breaking world records in the 200-meter race (20.7 sec) and in the broad jump (26 ft 53/8 in./8.07 m) and by winning also (along with Ralph Metcalfe and others) the 400-meter relay race. His records lasted for more than 20 years. Owens later participated in professional exhibitions and in various business enterprises. He was secretary of the Illinois Athletic commission until 1955 and later became active in the Illinois youth commission.

See his semiautobiographical Blackthink: My Life as Black Man and White Man (1970).

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