Many people may be surprised to learn that the most legendary athlete to compete at The Ohio State University was not a football player — instead, it was track-and-field star Jesse Owens. On Thursday, on one of the few sunny days we’ve had recently, the University unveiled a new statue of Jesse Owens at the southwest corner of Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
Owens’ athletic achievements were extraordinary. Most people know about Owens’ Olympic accomplishments, but his efforts the prior year at the Big Ten championships (at that time still called the Western Conference) were equally amazing. On one day — May 25, 1935 — Owens equaled the world record for the 100-yard dash and broke the world records for the 220-yard dash, the 220-yard low hurdles, and the long jump. Four world records in one day! At the 1936 Olympics held in Germany, Owens then reached iconic status by winning four gold medals in the heartland of Nazism and disproving Adolf Hitler’s racist Aryan superman myths.
When many of us think of the model for an athlete, we think of Jesse Owens, who performed exceptional feats under enormous pressure and did so with grace and class. Many of the pampered, steroid-using, self-absorbed athletes of the modern world would do well to study Jesse Owens and learn from his example. Perhaps this latest tribute will help in that regard.