Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics in Berlin - Maxicours

Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics in Berlin

Objectifs
  • Découvrir un aspect de la notion diversité et inclusion
  • Approfondir ses connaissances sur l'histoire des Jeux Olympiques
  • Découvrir un épisode historique en lien avec le combat contre les discriminations et les régimes dictatoriaux du 20me siècle
Points clés
  • Pour Hitler, l'organisation des JO par son pays, en 1936, était l'occasion de montrer la grandeur retrouvée de l'Allemagne après la défaire de la 1re Guerre Mondiale.
  • Il espérait que les athlètes allemands remporteraient la majorité des compétitions comme preuve de la supériorité de la race aryenne.
  • Les États-Unis souhaitaient boycotter l'événement pour protester contre l'interdiction qui avait été faite aux Juifs d'y participer. Mais les athlètes américains s'y opposèrent.
  • Jesse Owens, athlète noir américain, considéré comme le meilleur de son époque, remporta 4 des épreuves les plus emblématiques.

James Cleveland Owens (1913 – 1980) was a black American athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. He was considered as the greatest athlete of his time. The games were an opportunity for Hitler to show the world that Germany could be great again and he relied on his athletes to prove that the Aryan race was superior to any other race in the world. But Jesse Owens won four of the most important events!

1. The Stakes of the Games
a. The Nazi Rise to Power

In 1933, chancellor of Germany Adolf Hitler decided to make the 1936 Olympics a showcase for his regime. A new stadium was built, an airport was completed and TV channels would broadcast the Games around the world. Though open to all races and cultures, Hitler forbade Jews to enter the competition and he hoped German athletes would dominate the competition.

b. Owens, a Threat on Hitler's Games

At the same time a brilliant athlete started to emerge in America, setting records in the 100-yard dash (now 100-metre sprint) and accomplishing extraordinary feats while still at college. Another African American athlete, Ralph Metcalfe, was known then for his silver medal in the 100-meter dash that he won in the 1932 Olympics. No wonder Hitler feared African American stars!

2. How Jesse Owens Defeated Hitler

But Owens was almost deprived of the Games as the American government who condemned Hitler’s discriminatory policy decided to boycott the Games before a debate started between politicians and athletes who insisted on taking part in the competition.

As far as he was concerned Jesse Owens finally decided to go to Berlin and defend the colours of his country. And he was very right for he won four gold medals in the following disciplines:

  • the 100-meter dash (Ralph Metcalfe was second again)
  • the long jump (he beat German champion Luz Long)
  • the 200-meter dash
  • the 4x100 relay

He became the first American to win four gold medals in a single Olympics, and he helped defeat the German regime since the USA received 25 medals (14 gold) and Germany 16 (5 gold). As a result Hitler refused to congratulate the athletes as early as the second day of competition. But the crowd was very enthusiast and numerous fans wanted to see Jesse Owens win. This was maybe his greatest victory for even if he did not stop Hitler and his follies he stole the spotlight from his host, he the black man in a country where the Aryan race was the only race which mattered.

3. Conclusion

Jesse Owens was not afraid to go to Berlin and defy the Nazi regime during the 1936 Olympics at a time when segregation and racism reached their peak. He was an athlete who proved the world that a coloured man could be as good, even better than a white man. His feats showed that no classification must be established between races. Even with the eyes of the world upon him and a lot of pressure on his shoulders, he managed to win on all counts. He was an example for the future generations, not only in sport (Jackie Robinson, Carl Lewis...) but also in the domain of social issues that America would have to face later. Indeed, we can consider that he probably helped the Civil Rights movement to arise in the 1960s.

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