Thursday 12 November 2009

Icon #33 Jesse Owens

Firstly thanks to @WH1SKS for this weeks theme, it's caused much internal debate today as I've jumped between various different subjects for 'The Most Iconic Sporting Moment Ever.'

In the end though one suggestion kept on coming up, although I very nearly got swayed at the last minute by the Taylor v's Davis Snooker final from 1985 and all day I've had this nagging feeling that it would have been ace to have done Kevin Keegan's appearance on Superstars. Tommie Smith and John Carlos' Black Power salute at the 1968 games also came close as did Maradona's infamous handball. But in the end there could only be one winner.

Jesse Owens achievements during the 1936 Olympics may have been surpassed but his story is one that will be told for generations to come. For a sporting moment to truly be iconic it has to surpass the sporting arena and have a wider impact. I don't think anyone could argue that Jesse Owens ruffled the feathers of Hitler and made the whole 'Aryan Superiority' theory look a little foolish.

Some of the story is built around myth. Owens himself always said that he felt more let down by the lack of recognition from his own government than he did by any perceived snub from Hitler. Basically the Fuhrer was being his usual amiable self and only giving out medals to the German winners, the Olympic Committee took umbrage, and he opted to not attend any further medal ceremonies.

Jesse Owens did get under Hitler's skin in private and it's that which makes us all smile when we see those flickering images from 1936 of Owens winning four gold medals. He won the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump and the 100 meters relay and was already the record holder of the long jump with a distance that would last for twenty five years. Owens' achievement of four track and field golds would not be equalled until Carl Lewis in 1984, but it's almost not the significance of winning four golds that matter, it's the environment and what we all know happened three years later that is significant. To go to Germany, a country about to embark on a six year campaign to spread Hitler's warped ideals throughout the world, and win four medals in front of the man propagating the filth of racism and hatred for anything non-Aryan, is a victory for all of us. It's that which appeals to me I think. The idea of a sporting achievement screwing with a warped world view. It would be like Nick Griffin being involved in a terrible car crash and having his life saved by a black paramedic who's parents moved to the UK in the 1960's.

I love the idea that it messed with Hitler's head. That a guy from Cleveland Ohio who ran fast and jumped long could be a thorn in the side of evil is a good thing. Jesse Owens didn't stop the World War II, it didn't stop millions of deaths but looking back on it now, with over seventy years worth of history in-between, the image of Hitler fuming privately and insisting that those of African descent should not be allowed to compete as they had an advantage due to their physiques is one that takes me back to the recent Tarantino movie. NEIN!!!! NEIN!!!! NEIN!!!!! Ridiculous mein Fuher.

My favourite part of Owens' Olympic story surrounds the long jump competition. During qualifying Owens was struggling and was on the verge of leaving the competition when Luz Long the German, blonde, blue eyed competitor pulled him to one side and gave him some sound advice. Owens had been fouling repeatedly and Long suggested to him that Owens knew he could make the qualifying mark and that he didn't need to get so close to the jumping point. Owens credited Long with his remaining in the competition. Awesome. Stick that up your long dead arse Hitler.

'Although I wasn't invited to shake hands with Hitler, I wasn't invited to the White House to shake hands with the President either.' - Jesse Owen.

Tonight's post is dedicated to @debsa, @emmabunce, @domcoke and @fionakyle.

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