PBS' great series, American Experience, has a new episode about Olympic legend Jesse Owens which offers a wonderful insight into this fascinating American hero. The show began airing on PBS on May 1 and the complete episode can also be watched online on the PBS video website.
Although I was aware of Owens and his accomplishments, the documentary shed light on more of his personal life and how his actions impacted his own life. Here are some new highlights I learned about Jesse Owens and his athletic career:
I was vaguely aware of the controversy surrounding the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, but I was not aware of the large boycott movement that took place in the U.S. and how is came close to working. Even the NAACP was encouraging an American boycott and for Owens, as the country's most visible Olympic contender, to take a public stance against America's participation.
It was Olympic tradition for the leader of the host country to present the gold medals to the winners of high profile events. After Jesse Owens won his first gold, defeating the German runners, Hitler left the stadium and refused to present the medals. Showing his racism, Hitler was quoted as saying "You don't really think I would allow myself to be photographed with a Negro, do you?".
The Arm-in-Arm Walk with Luz
After his gold medal performance in the long jump, Owens and German athlete Carl "Luz" Long, whom Owens beat for the gold, walked arm-in-arm around the stadium. It was amazing to watch this demonstration of athletic unity and I had never heard of this nor seen it before.
The Torch Run
Something else I was unaware of before watching the film, was that the famous Olympic torch run was created by Hitler and his organizers, and was a first for the modern Olympic games. They had the idea of starting a runner from Athens with a lighted torch and to have a series of runners take the torch to the Games' opening, lighting a large torch as part of the ceremony.
It was interesting to learn more about what a hero and key figure Owens is in regards to racial equality and how he opened the door for other historic moments like Jackie Robinson's breaking of baseball's color line.
Olympic and sports fan Freddy Sherman grew up in Philadelphia and went to school with two Olympic medal winners, Kim Gallagher and David Wharton. Watching their skill and determination inspired him. You can follow Freddy on Twitter: @thefredsherman.
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