Monday, January 16, 2017

Book Review: Jesse Owens: Olympic Hero

Jesse Owens: Olympic Hero by Francene Sabin, illustrated by Hal Frenck, Troll Associates, New Jersey, 1986.
I really enjoyed getting to know of Jesse Owens.  He was the son of a sharecropper.  However he did not at first participate in the family business because of his poor health.  He  often had respiratory issues.  At one time, he had a bad abscess on his leg, which his mother healed, as they could not afford doctors.  The owner of the share cropper land wanted to change the deal, and pay the family less.  As a result, the family sold everything they had, and moved to Cleveland, Ohio.  Here J.C. improved in health.  Here for the first time Jesse was able to attend school.  Jesse was born James Cleveland Owens.  He was known as J.C.  The first day of school he was shy, and when the teacher asked him his name, he said "J.C." but she heard Jesse, and wrote it down, and the name stuck.  Jesse was to shy to correct her.  It was at school, that the track coach noticed Jesse won all the races.  He wanted him on the team, but Jesse had to work after school.  The coach came early to school every day, as did Jesse, and in that way he was able to be on the track team.  He was running faster than everyone else.  In fact he set a high school record in the 100 yard dash.  Not only that, but he also competed in the broad jump (long jump) the 220 yard dash and the hurdles.  It was clear he would receive a scholarship, and many programs offered.  However Jesse did not feel he could leave his family.  They were still dependent on the money he made.  Ohio State at the time did not offer track scholarships.  However his coach negotiated with them for Jesse to attend, with the school arranging jobs for Jesse to attend.  They also found a steady job for his father.  At the National Collegiate championship of 1935 Jesse tied the record in the 100 yard dash, and set the record in the 220 yard hurdles and the broad jump.  This was a preview for the Olympic games of 1936, held in Berlin.  Jesse's first event was the broad jump qualifying.  The German's were sure their man, Lutz Long would win.  The Nazis ruled Germany at the time, who believed the Aryan race was superior to all others.  This gave Jesse added motivation.  However in the broad jump we struggled in the qualifying round.  With one jump remaining, he still had not qualified.  He had fouled on several jumps.  Long approached him and reminded him that he did not have to do his best jump, but just to qualify.  Long said he wanted Jesse to make the finals.  Jesse took his advice, and qualified.  He was impressed with the sportsmanship shown, and the two became good friends until Long's death in WWII.  When Long injured his leg making an excellent jump, Owens ran to him and massaged his leg.  Owens won the broad jump with a world record setting leap (which record lasted for 25 years).  He won four gold medals, broad jump, 100 met and 220 meter dashes, and the 4x100 relay which also set a world record.
Jesse Owens was an incredible man, and was able to stand up to great pressure competing in Berlin.

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