kottke.org posts about Jesse Owens

2016 Olympic 100m dash bronze medalist vs 1936 Jesse OwensAug 18 2016

In the 100m dash at this year's Olympics, Andre De Grasse finished third behind Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin with a time of 9.91 seconds. Jesse Owens, running on a cinder track with heavier, stiffer leather shoes, won the gold at the 1936 Olympics with a time of 10.3 seconds. CBC took De Grasse to a dirt track, gave him a replica pair of Owens' shoes, and timed him. I won't give away the result, but Owens looks pretty good in comparison. As David Epstein said in his TED talk, perhaps technology is responsible for much of the improvement of athletic achievement:

Consider that Usain Bolt started by propelling himself out of blocks down a specially fabricated carpet designed to allow him to travel as fast as humanly possible. Jesse Owens, on the other hand, ran on cinders, the ash from burnt wood, and that soft surface stole far more energy from his legs as he ran. Rather than blocks, Jesse Owens had a gardening trowel that he had to use to dig holes in the cinders to start from. Biomechanical analysis of the speed of Owens' joints shows that had been running on the same surface as Bolt, he wouldn't have been 14 feet behind, he would have been within one stride.

In De Grasse's defense, he was running on dirt, not cinders and didn't have much of a chance to train on the surface or with the shoes. But still.

Jesse Owens' favorite Olympic memoryJul 17 2012

Jesse Owens' medal-winning exploits against the Aryan backdrop of the 1936 Olympics are well known, but I had never heard the story of his friendship with his German rival in the long jump. Owens explained in a 1960 Reader's Digest piece:

Walking a few yards from the pit, I kicked disgustedly at the dirt. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to look into the friendly blue eyes of the tall German broad jumper. He had easily qualified for the finals on his first attempt. He offered me a firm handshake.

"Jesse Owens, I'm Luz Long. I don't think we've met." He spoke English well, though with a German twist to it.

"Glad to meet you," I said. Then, trying to hide my nervousness, I added, "How are you?"

"I'm fine. The question is: How are you?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Something must be eating you," he said-proud the way foreigners are when they've mastered a bit of American slang. "You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed."

"Believe me, I know it," I told him -- and it felt good to say that to someone.

Here's a video of Owens competing in Berlin:

Update: Or perhaps Owens fabricated the story? (thx, @jessakka)

Tags related to Jesse Owens:
video track and field sports Olympic Games

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