Jesse Owens was one of the greatest track stars—and one of the most beloved Olympians—of all time. In a year when hate threatened to overshadow the Olympic Games being held in Nazi Germany, Owens delighted the free world by winning four gold medals and destroying Adolf Hitler’s notion that his Aryan athletes were superior to black competitors. The photos taken of Owens at those 1936 games, and in the years before and after, depict an amazing athlete who has inspired generations of people of all races. In honor of Owens, we present a photo celebration of his life and legacy.
High school student athlete
Cleveland, Ohio, high school student Jesse Owens in 1933.
The “Buckeye Bullet” in college
Ohio State University student Jesse Owens, aka the “Buckeye Bullet,” crosses the finish line in the 220-yard dash with a record speed of 20.3 seconds at the Big Ten Western Conference Track and Field meet at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., May 25, 1935. He broke three world records, including the 220-yard hurdle, 22.6, and the long jump, 26 feet, 1/4 inches. He tied the 100-yard dash record, 9.4 seconds.
Outstanding track and field athlete Jesse Owens poses in his Ohio State University jersey, April 26, 1935. As a sophomore at OSU he held the world indoor broad jump record of 25 feet, 9 3/4 inches.
Jesse Owens gives Joe Williams, Ohio State University’s flashy sophomore halfback, a few helpful hints on the art of getting a fast start Oct. 31, 1935, in Columbus, Ohio.
Marries his high school sweetheart
Jesse Owens and his high school sweetheart Minnie Ruth Solomon take their marriage vows July 5, 1935, in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Olympic Games in Berlin, 1936
Jesse Owens shakes hands with Italian competitor Ercola Gallegati at the Olympic Village in Berlin, 1936.
Jesse Owens competes in one of the heats of the 200-meter run at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Owens was captured bursting into motion in the 200-meter sprint. A few seconds later he would capture the gold medal.
Jesse Owens also took gold in the long jump, the 100-meter sprint and the 4×100-meter relay.
Jesse Owens, center, salutes during the presentation of his gold medal for the long jump, after defeating Nazi Germany’s Lutz Long, right, during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Naoto Tajima of Japan, left, placed third.
Happy over his double victory, Jesse Owens holds the Olympic oaks he won by capturing first honors in the 100-meter dash and running broad jump.
After the Olympics
Following his Olympic triumph, Jesse Owens held a variety of jobs to make ends meet, including racing against horses. “People say that it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse,” Owens said, “but what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can’t eat four gold medals.”
Post-Olympics, Jesse Owens devoted himself to working with underprivileged youth, serving as a board member and director of the Chicago Boys Club. Here Owens is seen in his capacity as disc jockey and sports specialist for the Illinois Youth Commission May 18, 1960, in Chicago.
Jesse Owens declined to retain his amateur status after the 1936 Olympics, but he still visited future games—like 1960’s Summer Olympics in Rome. Here Owens poses with 1960 gold medalist Armin Hary.
Twenty-eight years after his victory, Jesse Owens revisited the stadium where he won. Owens points to the scoreboard at the Olympic Stadium where his name was shown three times.
Jesse Owens is remembered today, more than 30 years after his death, with tributes across the U.S. The Jesse Owens Museum is just one of them. Here Austin Burch and Houston South look at a photo mural of Jesse Owens in the Oakville, Alabama, museum in June 2008.
Olympic victory and a loving wife—this photo shows two of the most important parts of Jesse Owens’ life. Mrs. Ruth Owens grins at the crowd after unveiling a statue of her husband June 29, 1996, at the Jesse Owens Memorial Park in Oakville, Alabama.