Adolph Hitler intended the 1936 Berlin Olympics to be a grand statement celebrating “Deutschland Uber Alles.” But Jesse Owens, a grandson of slaves, heroically interrupted Hitler’s intention to make the games a showcase for Aryan supremacy.
A track and field star at Ohio State, Owens had broken five world records in 1935, but these were just a prelude for his Olympian performance a year later. Photographed by documentary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl as he competed in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, Owens broke or equaled nine Olympic records and set three world records. Most important, he won four gold medals—in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay, and the long jump.
In 1950 an Associated Press poll voted Jesse Owens the greatest track and field star of the first half of the twentieth century. He was awarded a Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford in 1976, and a street in Berlin was named in his honor in 1984.