Throughout the storied history of Ohio State athletics, the one name that stands out among all greats is Jesse Owens. His unparalleled accomplishments on the track, captivating charm and tireless efforts on behalf of young people made him a legend around the world. Owens’ athletics career began in junior high school in Cleveland, Ohio, where he set national records in both the high jump and broad (long) jump.
At East Tech high School, Owens set scholastic world records in the 220-yard dash and the broad jump and tied a world record in the 100-yard dash.In the fall of 1933, Owens enrolled at The Ohio State University. Under the tutelage of Buckeye track coach Larry Snyder, Owens rose to international prominence his sophomore season. He recorded world indoor records in both the 60-meter dash and 60-yard dash and compiled 45 first-place, five second-place and four third-place finishes that season. On May 25, 1935, at the Western Conference (now Big Ten) Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich., in the space of only 70 minutes, Owens set three world records and tied a fourth.
The “Buckeye Bullet” raced to a 9.4 mark in the 100-yard dash, equaling the record. Then it was on to the broad jump pit, where he cleared 26 feet, 8 ¼ inches. Owens also competed in the 220-yard dash, where he smashed the world record with a time of 20.3, and he topped that effort with a mark of 22.6 in the 220-yard low hurdles. It was a performance the likes of which the world may never see again.
The year 1936 could simply be known as the year of Jesse Owens. The premier track athlete in the world, Owens was undefeated in 42 events for Ohio State that season. He won four titles at the Western Conference Championships, four at the NCAA Championships, two at the N.A.A.U. Championships and three at the Olympic Trials. The defining moment of Owens’ career came in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi-controlled Berlin, Germany. Owens shattered Hitler’s myth of Aryan superiority by winning gold medals in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, broad jump and as a member of the 4×100-meter relay team.Learn more
In 1950, the Associated Press named Owens its Track Athlete of the First half-Century. In 1955, the State Department named him America’s “Ambassador of Sports.” Owens toured the world, meeting with government and sports officials and promoting the virtues of amateur sports programs. In 1976, President Gerald Ford presented Owens with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the United States Medal of Freedom. Owens continued to serve his country and amateur sports until his death on March 31, 1980. He is survived by his three daughters, Gloria, Beverly and Marlene. His wife, Ruth, passed away in 2001.