The International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the 1936 Summer Olympics to Berlin in 1931, two years before Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. Nevertheless, Hitler seized the opportunity to promote Nazi ideology, which included the notion that the so-called ‘black auxiliaries’ – in other words, the African-American athletes – on which the United States relied, in part, were ‘subhuman’.
In fact, African-American athletes did supremely well. Ralph Metcalfe, Archie Williams, John Woodruff and Cornelius Johnson won gold medals in the 4 x 100-metres relay, 400 metres, 800 metres and high jump, but it was James Cleveland ‘Jesse’ Owens who surpassed them all. Owens shared the podium with Metcalfe in the 4 x 100-metres relay, after the pair controversially replaced the only two Jewish athletes on the United States’ team, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, but had earlier won individual gold medals in the 100 metres, 200 metres and long jump.
Standing 5′ 10″ tall and weighing in at 11st 11lb, Owens won the 100 metres final in an Olympic-record time of 10.30 seconds, finishing just ahead of compatriot Metcalfe. The following day, having narrowly avoiding elimination in the qualifying stage, Owens won his second gold medal with a jump of 8.13 metres in the long jump final, thereby setting a world record that would not be beaten for 25 years. Another Olympic record, 20.70 seconds, followed in the 200 metres final, in which another African-American athlete. Matthew ‘Mack’ Robinson finished second. Owens’ selection for the 4 x 100-metres relay team may have been motivated by ant-semitism, as alleged by Glickman, but Owens, Metcalfe, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff won gold in a world-record time of 39.80 seconds.
Watch a Jesse Owens segment here