Jesse Owens 1936 Olympics

Jesse Owens 1936 Olympics 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

Roger Bannister Four-minute Mile 1954

Roger Bannister Four-minute Mile 1954 In defiance of contemporary wisdom that running a four-minute mile was impossible, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister who was, at the time, a 25-year-old medical student, made the ‘impossible’ possible by running four quarter-mile laps on a cinder track, at what is now the Iffley Road Sports Complex, in Oxford in 3 minutes 59.4 minutes. In so doing, he beat the world record, of 4 minutes 1.4 seconds, set by Swedish athlete Gunder Hägg in Malmö in 1945 but, by breaking through the seemingly impenetrable four-minute barrier, became a yardstick for every middle-distance runner on the planet ever since.

Bannister employed two pacemakers, his friends Christopher Brasher and Christopher Chataway, who were both highly accomplished athletes in their own right. Urged along by Bannister, Brasher led for the first two laps, before giving way to Chataway; Bannister, meanwhile, soldiered on in second place, on the shoulder of the leader, before making his finishing effort heading down the back straight on the final lap, which he needed to complete in under 59 seconds.

That he did and, pale and drawn after his extertion, his own words, ‘leapt at the tape like a man taking his last desperate spring to save himself from a chasm that threatens to engulf him.’ He collapsed, exhausted, in fact, almost unconscious, into the arms of his Austrian coach, Franz Stampfl. Norris McWhirter, soon to be commmisioned to compile ‘The Guiness Book of World Records’ with his twin brother, Ross, announced the result; as soon as he said ‘three minutes’ pandemonium broke out and Bannister, Brasher and Chataway set off on a gleeful lap of honour.

Watch Roger Bannister’s Four-minute Mile

Sebastian Coe vs. Steve Ovett 1980

Sebastian Coe vs. Steve Ovett 1980 Notwithstanding a boycott, led by the United States, in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December, 1979, a total of 81 countries, including Britain, did attend the 1980 Summer Olympics. The standard middle-distance races, including the 800 metres and 1,500 metres, which British athletes Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett were expected to dominate, were not considered weakened.

Indeed, Coe arrived in Moscow as the world record holder over 800 metres and joint world record holder, with Ovett, over 1,500 metres. Just a week before the Olympics, Ovett had run 3 minutes 32.09 seconds in the 1,500 metres in Oslo, Norway which, in the days when race times were still rounded up to the nearest tenth of a second, was considered equal to the world record, of 3 minutes 32.03 seconds, set by Coe in Zurich, Switzerland the previous August.

Both men cruised through their heats and semi-finals in the 800 metres, but the final was a wholly unsatisfactory affair, which Coe later described as ‘the very worst 800 metres of my 20-year career’. It was no plain sailing for Ovett, either, who had to push his way out of trouble on more than once occasion, but Coe made the questionable tactical decision of racing on the wide outside throughout; last with 300 metres to run, he finished to good effect, but was never catching Ovett and had to settle for second place.

It was a similar story in the 1,500 metres, at least as far as the heats and semi-finals were concerned. In the final, for which Ovett appeared favourite, Coe helped to set a dawdling early pace – which, as a relatively inexperienced 1,500 metres competitor, was in his favour – alongside East German athlete Jürgen Straub. Straub picked up the pace, attempting to run the finishing kick out of Coe, but Coe took the lead at the top of the home straight and sprinted away to win by four yards, with Ovett labouring in third place.

Watch the Ovett vs Coe 800m Final