It was the summer of 1936. The Olympic Games were being held in Berlin. Because Adolf Hitler childishly insisted that his performers were members of a “master race,” nationalistic feelings were at an all-time high.
I wasn’t too worried about all this. I’d trained, sweated and disciplined myself for six years, with the Games in mind. While I was going over on the boat, all I could think about was taking home one or two of those gold medals. I had my eye especially on the running broad jump. A year before, as a sophomore at Ohio State University, I’d set the world’s record of 26 feet 8-1/4 inches. Everyone kind of expected me to win that Olympic event hands down.
I was in for a surprise. When the time came for the broad-jump trials, I was startled to see a tall boy hitting the pit at almost 26 feet on his practice leaps! He turned out to be a German named Luz Long. I was told that Hitler had kept him under wraps, evidently hoping to win the jump with him.
I guessed that if Long won, it would add some new support to the Nazis’ Aryan-superiority theory. After all, I am a Negro. A little hot under the collar about Hitler’s ways, I determined to go out there and really show Der Fuhrer and his master race who was superior and who wasn’t.
An angry athlete is an athlete who will make mistakes, as any coach will tell you. I was no exception. On the first of my three qualifying jumps, I leaped from several inches beyond the take-off board for a foul. On the second jump, I fouled even worse. “Did I come 3000 miles for this?” I thought bitterly. “To foul out of the trials and make a fool of myself?”
Below: An amazing look at Owens and Long competing at the 1936 Berlin Games: