I don’t care what ESPN thinks the greatest American Olympian is Jesse Owens. What Jesse Owens did was bigger than sport. Books have been written about Owens. I am only going to tell the great story of Jesee Owens and his main competitor in the Long Jump- Luz Long of Germany.
The long jump was Jesse Owens best event. Before the 1936 Berlin Games, Owens set a world record with a jump of 26 feet 8 1/4th inches. A World Record that would stand for 25 years. Owens going into the event at the Olympics looked like a sure thing. In the qualifying Jesse took a jump which he thought was a practice jump. The officials ruled it an attempt. On his second jump he fouled. Jesse Owens was in danger of not even qualifying for the final in his best event if he fouled again.
After Owens second attempt, the German Luz Long approached Owens and they talked for several minutes. Long was proud of his ability to speak English. He told Owens that he didn’t believe in the theory of Aryan superiority and they joked that Long, who was tall and blue eyed looked the part anyway. At that point Long offered Owens a suggestion. The qualifying distance was only 23 feet 5 1/2 inches. Owens could easily do that. Long suggested that Owens make a mark a couple inches before the take off board -that way he wouldn’t foul and he’d make the distance and qualify for the finals. Owens followed Long’s advice and qualified for the finals that would be held later that afternoon.
In the Long Jump Finals- Owens set a new Olympic Record, Luz Long matched that distance. Then an inspired Jesse Owens jumped further-26 feet 3 3/4th inches. Jesse Owens final jump was 26 feet 5 1/2 inches. Jesse Owens had won his second of four gold medals he would win at the 1936 Berlin Games. Luz Long won the silver. The first person to congratulated Jesse Owens on his victory was Luz Long.
In the end Jesse Owens would win 4 gold medals in Berlin, in the 100 meters, 200 meters, the 4 X 100 relay and in the Long Jump. Jesse Owens died in 1980 at the age of 66.
Years later Jesse Owens would say “You could melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating in the 24 carrot friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment.” Owens and Long remained friends. Luz Long was killed in the battle of St. Pietro on July 14th, 1943. Jesse Owens continued to communicate with Luz Long’s family.