Jesse Owens

Class of 1933

Jesse Owens

Almost every track and field fan with a pulse knows about Jesse Owens. His name and his accomplishments in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, under the disapproving gaze of German Nazi ruler Adolf Hitler, is a part of American sports and cultural history; even those with little or no interest in the sport become familiar with his legacy. Then most serious track aficionados become familiar with Owens’ accomplishments with Ohio State on that magical 1935 day in Ann Arbor (U. of Michigan) – the “greatest 45 minutes in sports,” when he set three world records and tied a fourth.

But what the fewest fans of the sport are probably acquainted with is the high school resume of Owens, while at Cleveland East Tech. That was the beginning of the legend and set the foundation for all that followed. Owens was born in Oakville, Ala. In 1913 and was 9 years old when the family moved to Cleveland. He soon began to realize he had a passion for running and was strongly encouraged by his Fairmount Junior High coach Charles Riley.

By Owens’ junior year in 1932, he swept the state meet 100y, 220y and long jump, and had nation-leading PRs in of 9.6 100y and 10.3w 100m, in addition to 21.4 220 and 24 ½ LJ bests. He wasn’t far off qualifying for the Olympic team – but that glory would come four years later.

Then 1933 was a landmark year for Owens with five high school records: 5.2 indoor 50y, 9.4 100y, 10.4 100m, 20.7 220y and 24-11 ¼ in the long jump. These records would last between 16 and 34 years, testifying to their all-time greatness. Owens dominated prep completion in Ohio and beyond and won the AAU senior long jump – ranking #1 in the world for event, as well as top-4 rankings globally in the 100 and 220.

Owens went on to Ohio State, where he won eight NCAA titles in his first two years, plus that stunning quadruple world-record effort that May afternoon at the Big 10s in Ann Arbor. And of course at the 1936 Olympic Games, Owens achieved the unprecedented feat of winning the 100, 200, 4×100 and long jump.

The Jesse Owens Award stands as USA Track and Field’s highest honor for the year’s best track and field athlete. Owens was also ranked by ESPN as the sixth-greatest North American athlete of the 20th century and the highest-ranked in track and field.

Did You Know?

Jesse Owens set the world record in the long jump in 1935, the year before Berlin, at 26-8 – which was not broken until Ralph Boston surpassed it in 1960.