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Owens, Jesse,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 5 3-8 in./8.07 m) and by winning also (along with Ralph Metcalfe and others) the 4×100-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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Owens, (James or John Cleveland) Jesse(1913–80) track and field athlete; born in Danville, Ala. After setting records as a schoolboy athlete in Cleveland, he attended Ohio State University; on one day (May 25, 1935), he set three world records and tied another in the span of about an hour. (His 26 feet 8¼ inch running broad jump was not broken until 1960.) At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, he disproved for the world Adolf Hitler's proclamation of "Aryan supremacy" by achieving the finest one-day performance in track history with four gold medals (100 meters, 200 meters, 4 × 100 meters, running broad jump); Hitler left the stadium to avoid having to congratulate an African-American. Although he gained worldwide publicity for his feat, back in the U.S.A. he gained few financial or social benefits and was reduced to running "freak" races against horses and dogs. After graduating from Ohio State (1937) he went into private business before becoming secretary of the Illinois Athletic Commission (until 1955). He made a goodwill tour of India for the U.S. State Department and attended the 1956 Olympics as President Eisenhower's personal representative. He returned to Illinois to direct youth sports activities for the Illinois Youth Commission. In a belated gesture of national recognition, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.