JESSE OWENS: Finest Hour in Athletics History

ANN ARBOR, Michigan, May 24 (AFP) - Only a tiny plaque on a small brick monument here commemorates 99-year-old Ferry Field as hallowed ground, the site of the finest hour in athletics thanks to the legendary Jesse Owens.
Wednesday marks the 70th anniversary of Owens setting three world records and matching another within a span of 45 minutes, shrugging off back pain from a fall to produce the sport’s greatest one-day effort at age 21.
Owens matched the 100-yard world record of 9.4 seconds at 3:15 in the afternoon, then just 15 minutes later took one leap and set a world long jump record of 26-feet-8 1/4-inches (8.13m) that would stand for a quarter-century.
The Buckeye Bullet'' set a 220-yard dash world record of 20.3 seconds at 3:34 and at the top of the hour set a 220-yard low hurdles record of 22.6 seconds. Conversions showed Owens' longest runs broke world 200m records even though he ran 201.68m to set the times. Only Owens, who died of lung cancer in 1980 at age 66, has set athletics world records in multiple events in one day. His long jump mark lasted until fellow American Ralph Boston broke it in 1960. Recalled largely by grainy black and white film from a 1936 Berlin Olympics in which he shattered Adolf Hitler's idea of a Master Race, Owens struggled with money after a feat that, if repeated today, would bring a king's ransom. Owens won four gold medals at Berlin, matching the world 100m record of 10.3 seconds, taking the long jump and 200m in Olympic records and running the first leg for a 4x100m relay that won in a world record 39.8 seconds. But Owens found no endorsement riches upon his homecoming. He was forced to run against horses at Negro League baseball games, a humbling fall from glory. For a time, at least, I was the most famous person in the entire world,’’ Owens said in remembrances on his official web site. Everyone was going to slap me on the back, want to shake my hand or have me up to their suite. But no one was going to offer me a job.’’

Born the son of a sharecropper and grandson of a slave in rural Alabama, Owens picked cotton as a child laborer. At age nine, the Owens family moved to Cleveland, where Owens equaled the 100-yard world record in high school.
Owens attended Ohio State University but in the midst of the Great Depression'' and with the American civil rights movement 30 years away, Owens was forced to eat at blacks only’’ restaurants and sleep in segregated hotels.
I couldn't ride in the front of the bus,'' Owens recalled to biographers. I had to go to the back door.’’
Owens, a sophomore, slipped on water and injured his tailbone in a fall two two weeks before the 1935 Big Ten Conference Athletics Championship here at the University of Michigan, Ohio State’s arch rival.
Owens endured a 200-mile ride in the rumble seat'' of a car over the Midwest backroads and was doubtful for the meet but decided to compete. The rest was simply history. Today, recreational runners trod the repaved track. Huge telephone poles with netting between them run down the middle of the track to catch any errant throws. One can still imagine Owens leaping into the jump pit over the takeoff judge's head and picking up the handkerchief he set at the world record length. A 10,000-seat Ohio State athletics stadium completed in 2001 bears Owens' name. But here, just beyond the first turn, Owens' plaque shares space with those of war-dead Michigan athletes - four in The World War’’, 17 in World War II and one in Vietnam.
A tribute motto on the World War II plaque would apply most aptly to Owens. It reads: ``Not dead, but living in deeds: Such lives inspire.’’

Sports writer Jack Clowser had a marvellous story to tell his readers in the Cleveland News on Saturday, May 25, 1935. So good, indeed, that as far as sporting stories go, it has never been beaten.

Clowser covered the Big 10 track and field meeting - the 35th annual Western Conference championships - at Ann Arbor, Michigan, and bore witness to the legendary :slight_smile: Jesse Owens setting six world records in the space of 45 minutes.

Admittedly, a mere 234km away, as the crow flies across Lake Eerie, baseball writers would have claimed they were also covering the sports achievement of the 20th century: :slight_smile: Babe Ruth scoring his record 714th and last home run at Forbes Field, Pittsburgh.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the two remarkable performances. And May 25 has a special place in sports history for another reason: it was on this day 40 years ago that :slight_smile: Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston with a so-called “phantom punch” in Lewiston, Maine, in his first defence of the world heavyweight boxing title he had taken off Liston 15 months earlier at Miami Beach, Florida.

But first to Owens.

The measure of Owens’ feats at Ann Arbor is that the world long jump record the then 21-year-old set that day, of 8.13m (26ft 8in) stood for more than 25 years, until beaten by Ralph Boston at Walnut on August 12, 1960. Boston went on to win the Olympic title in Rome that year.

Owens had added 15cm (6in) to the world record set by Chuhei Nambu of Japan at Tokyo on October 27, 1931.

Clowser wrote that Owens, the “sensational Ohio State sophomore”, had “ascended the all-time pinnacle of the track and field world” as he turned the meeting “into the greatest one-man athletic show in history”.

What Clowser did not know at the time was that Owens, two weeks before the meeting, had been clowning around with fellow students in their dormitory, had slipped on water and landed on his tailbone on a stairwell. He was in so much pain it was doubtful right up to the start of the Big 10 if he’d compete at all.

But he was carried into the stadium, massaged in a hot tub in the changing rooms, and took the field, though he couldn’t jog, stretch to touch his knees or warm up in any other way. When the starters for the 100 yards were called, Owens was leaning up against a flagpole still trying to ease his discomfort.

Owens started his onslaught on the world record books at 3.15pm, running the 100 yards in 9.4sec to equal Frank Wyckoff’s five-year-old mark. It was to be 13 years before anyone (Mel Patton) ran faster.

At 3.25pm Owens placed a handkerchief at 26ft 2in and promptly proceeded to smash the long jump record with his one and only attempt in the event. At 3.34pm he ran a straight 220 yards in 20.3, taking 0.3sec off Roland Locke’s nine-year-old record, as well as 0.3 off the 200m record shared by Locke and Ralph Metcalfe. Owens’ times stood for 14 years, until again beaten by Patton.

At 4pm Owens ran the 220 yards low hurdles in 22.6, taking took 0.4sec off Charley Brookins’ 11-year-old record, which had been equalled by Norman Paul in 1933.

As with the 220 flat, this was also a new 200m record. Owens’ hurdles records stood for five years.

Clowser wrote, “In the light of Owens’ incredible feats, everything else, including the team title, seemed to fade into insignificance. Never before in the archives of the cinder path has an individual competitor performed in such breathtaking fashion.”

In the next season - his junior year at Ohio State - Owens would go on to win all 42 events in which he competed, and in 1936 to win four gold medals at the Berlin Olympic Games. But track and field experts still rate his glorious afternoon at Ann Arbor as the greatest achievement ever by an athlete.

B abe Ruth was 40 and a week short of retiring when he hit his 714th home run. He had signed a complex deal with Braves owner Emil Fuchs to return to Boston. For a share of profits, an assistant managerial job to Bill McKechnie (with a promise to succeed him) and a chance to play whenever he wanted, Ruth went to the worst team in the National Baseball League.

Grossly overweight, Ruth still managed to show his greatness one last time. At Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, on May 25, 1935, he hit three home runs; the last was the first ball ever to be hit completely out of that park.

Ruth crushed the ball so convincingly that Pirates players simply stood and watched it disappear behind the stands. A crowd of 10,000 let out a roar as Ruth hobbled around the bases. When he rounded third, the pitcher, Guy Bush, tipped his cap to Ruth, who smiled and saluted back.

Ruth’s record stood for 39 years, until - in the midst of racial slurs and death threats, denounced by Ruth’s widow - the Atlanta Braves’ Hank Aaron, also at the age of 40, beat it, on April 8, 1974. Aaron eventually reached 755, but Ruth remains second on the all-time list, with Barry Bonds the only other batter to pass 700 (703).