JESSE OWENS is probably the most celebrated black American athlete prior to 1950. In the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, he captured international attention by winning four gold medals – the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and the 4×100 meter relay team.
In 1935, a year preceding the Olympics, Owens’ astounded the world in a Big Ten meet. In a remarkable span of 45minutes, he set three world records in the long jump, 220 yard sprint (equivalent to the 200m sprint), 220 yard low hurdles, and equaled the record for 100 yard sprint (91m).
Yet Owens’ unprecedented Golds in the sprint and long jump events in the 1936 Olympics would not have materialized if not for amazing Olympic Spirit displayed by Luz Long.
Luz Long and Jesse Owens were considered the favorites in the 1936 Long Jump event. In the preliminary rounds, Luz Long found himself clearing the distance required easily. Owens, his strongest competitor in the event, had fouled on his first two jumps and was on the brink of elimination from the finals.
An Olympic Gold medal could cement an athlete’s place in history and it obviously mean a lot to any athlete. Jesse Owens was not just Luz Long’s competitor, he was his strongest competitor! Yet Luz Long did what nobody would have expected him to do; he gave Owens advice on how to approach the final jump. Long figured that since Owens could routinely clear the minimum distance required for the finals, he advised Owens to jump from a spot several inches from the line.
While the tip given by Long may seem like second nature to some of us, the truth is the pressure of competing in the Olympics in front of thousands of spectators can be a very daunting task.
Owens cleared his final jump with relative ease, and he went to win the Olympic Gold Medal with a jump of 8.06m, beating his advisor and competitor Long to second place. Luz Long was the first to congratulate Owens.
Owens said “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler,”
“You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment.”
As i read the article, i was deeply inspired. How in the world could Luz Long ignore his own claims to a Olympic Gold medal, and a place in history? The only reason i could think of was that he valued the spirit of competition more than the medal itself.
Luz Long’s sportsmanship on the 4th August 1936, was the defining moment in the 1936 Olympics. He might not have won a gold medal and a place in history, but in the many years that followed and probably for many more years to come, he will definitely be remembered as the person who embodied the Olympic Spirit.