It was a beautiful day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 25, 1935. Ohio State track coach Larry Snyder had been looking forward to this meet, the Big 10 championship, all year because he felt certain Jesse Owens was going to beat the rest of the conference soundly. He was happy it would happen in front of rival Michigan State’s crowd, as well. This would set the stage for the NCAA National Championship as well as the Olympic qualifiers.
However, Larry wasn’t smiling. In a brown fedora and suit coat, he watched Jesse warm up.
“How is your back feeling today?” Larry asked Jesse, as he tried to warm up. Five days earlier, Jesse had fallen down a flight of stairs as he rough housed with fraternity brothers, injuring his lower back. Larry didn’t scratch him from the races, hoping he would feel better by race time. Now the day of the race had come and warm ups had proven that Jesse was still in pain.
“It still hurts,” Jesse said with a grimace. “But I think I can still race.”
“Are you sure?” Larry asked, not daring to hope Jesse could run at top speeds with a back injury.
“I’m going to run,” Jesse said, a little more resolutely this time.
“Let’s see how the first race goes,” Larry offered, beginning to think Jesse might be able to score a few points for the team, but unsure how he would fair the rest of the day.
3:15 pm – Jesse Owens left the starting line a little slow, but caught and passed all other contestants to finish in a time of 9.4 seconds9.4 seconds. Not only had he won, he tied the world record.
Now Larry was smiling. Imagine what he could have done if he was completely healthy, Larry thought to himself.
Jesse was smiling too when he came to see his coach. They decided that Jesse should attempt the long jump and see how it goes.
3:25 pm – Just 10 minutes after tying the 100 yard dash record, Jesse crushed the world record for the long jump. In his one and only attempt, he jumped 26′ 8¼”. It was a record that would stand for 25 years. Jesse decided to not try jumping again so he could rest a little bit.
3:34 pm – He only had nine minutes to wait before the start of the 220-yard dash. It was a straight dirt track that started outside of the stadium and finished inside. When Jesse crossed the finish line, another world record had been broken. He finished it in 20.3 seconds.
Larry was ecstatic! Jesse was holding up better than he could have dreamed after the fall he had taken that week. World-records were falling like dominoes. But that was probably the last record that would be broken that day, he thought. Jess would have to compete in the 220-yard low hurdles in just under 30 minutes. Not only would Jesse be tired from the nearly continuous sprinting he had performed the last 20 minutes, but Jesse was not as technically sound at the hurdles as many of the other racers. Then add to that a sore back, and Jesse would be hard pressed to finish first, let alone break a world record.
“How are you holding up?” Larry asked Jesse 10 minutes before the 220 hurdles began.
“I’m fine coach,” Jesse said, smiling back.
“You don’t have to run the hurdles if your back is hurting you,” Larry suggested, wanting to give the star sprinter an option to rest if he needed it.
“I’m fine, Coach,” Jesse replied. “I want to run.”
4:00 pm – Larry and the whole crowd held their breath as they watched Jesse fly through the 220 yards of hurdles. Everyone cheered as they saw Jesse distance himself from the pack and finish 5 yards ahead of the second place runner. His time of in 22.6 seconds once again broke a world record.
Never before, or since, has anyone tied or broken four world records in 45 minutes. One month later, Jesse would score 40 points at the 1935 NCAA National Championship meet, the whole team only scored 40.2 points. Jesse single handedly put Ohio State in second place at that 1935 National Championship. Throughout 1935, Jesse Owens competed in 42 events and won every time.
Jesse was a driven competitor that believed in himself, but more importantly, he enjoyed running.
“I always loved running — it was something you could do by yourself and under your own power,” he said. “You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.”
Jesse Owens was a very successful track athlete and proved that time after time, even beating horses in races after he won three gold medals in the 1936 Olympics. But the world he lived in was anything but roses. His racing career was short because he had to work part-time jobs, while attending school so he could pay for college and support his family. He was treated like a second class citizen, even though he won gold medals for the United States. Black athletes at that time were not respected or compensated for their time and efforts. But most accounts of Jesse say he was cheerful and happy with a smile and handshake for anyone he met. He spent most of his life after running encouraging youth to keep on trying.
No matter what others tell you about yourself, you need to believe in your own ability. You need to do your best and leave to God the rest. In doing that you will find strength to overcome obstacles and beat your own records. You never know what’s possible until you give it your best shot. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish.