Jesse Owens - Student Athlete at The Ohio State University

19-Oct-2016 | 3 min read

Our Blogs > Jesse Owens - Student Athlete at The Ohio State University
Jesse Owens, the greatest track and field athlete in history, and a black icon renowned the world over, is also an alumni of Ohio State University – having moved to Cleveland from Alabama as a child. Though he showed clear signs of extraordinary talent during his time at East Technical High School, he was ineligible to receive a scholarship, due to the segregated nature of the United States at the time. In 1933, Owens enrolled at Ohio State, after turning down offers from other schools such as the University of Michigan. At the time that Jesse attended Ohio State, America remained widely segregated, and so he was not permitted to stay in men’s dorms, eat at Columbus restaurants, or go to movie theaters with his teammates. Despite this, he remained focused on his studies and training, determined to prove his worth as a black student-athlete. Throughout his time at OSU, he succeeded in achieving many victories, most notably being elected team captain – a position that had never before been held by an African American student athlete. He began to gain respect from both his peers and his teachers, who recognized him for his talent, rather than for his skin colour. During his junior year of university, Jesse was invited to train for the 1936 Summer Olympics, which would be held in Berlin, Germany. At this time, Germany was a Nazi state, and Hitler planned to use the Games as a way to promote the successes of their reign. Owens emerged as the star of the Games, winning four gold medals across four separate events – a world record that would not be matched for nearly fifty years. This unprecedented achievement acted as somewhat of a counter to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, where Jesse Owens stood as proof that African American athletes could succeed and prosper over “superior” Aryans. The 1936 Games would be the only Olympics Owens would ever compete in, and after returning to the United States, he dedicated his life to ensuring no one else would be excluded from what they loved. Until his death in 1980, Jesse traveled around America, making speeches, appealing directly to the United States Olympic Committee, and fulfilling the position of US goodwill ambassador. He continued to advocate for equality, in sports and everyday life, for a new generation of Americans.    

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