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Olympic stars visit CapePosted Thursday, August 16, 2012, at 12:00 AM
Since the Olympic Games recently ended, I thought you might find it interesting to read a story about an Olympian who visited Cape Girardeau in March 1977, 41 years after making history in Berlin.
Here's sports editor B. Ray Owen's front-page article about track great Jesse Owens:
OLYMPIC HERO STILL HIGH ON THE GAMES
The Olympics, with all its pomp and pageantry, with all its machinations, myths, and mysteries, have produced a long line of athletes of heroic stature, whose feats have made them legends. One of these is Jesse Owens, who has not lost contact with the games which netted him a four-gold-medal sweep in 1936.
Forty years ago, Jesse Owens was a lithe, silk-smooth, sprinter-hurler-jumper.
Today, the aging, but still trim "Greatest Track Athlete," still reflects the clarion call of the Olympics -- "Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Braver)" -- and the ideals surrounding the games -- fair play, sportsmanship, and the creation of international amity and good will.
"I believe in the Olympics," said Owens, who has attended every Olympics since his participation in the 1936 games in Berlin. "And, I don't believe in government subsides for the U.S. team."
"A lot has been said about this in recent years, "added the former Olympian who stunned the sports world in 1936 by claiming four gold medals, becoming the first to ever capture more than three. "But, we've got along well over the years. Businesses and corporations have donated to the Olympic cause over the year.
"We've always sent a team to the Olympics, and that team belongs to the people, not the government. With our AAU and NCAA programs, we have one of the greatest systems in the world for training."
Owens, who arrived in Cape Girardeau Wednesday evening, will be guest speaker at SEMO State University's Academic Auditorium tonight at 8.
Owens, who includes a speaker's bureau in his public relations firm at Phoenix, Ariz., serves on an Olympic fund-raising committee, and conducts youth track programs across the United States, as another facet of his Phoenix-based firm.
"One of the clients of our firm sponsors the youth programs in 14 large cities," said Owens. "Then, we take the winners from each of the areas and put them all together in one big track and field meet.
"This is great of the kids," said Owens. "For many of them, it's the first time away from home.... The first time on a plane, or train."
One of Owens' clients, the Ford Company, is sponsoring his visit to SEMO State University.
"Athletes have an easier time of it these days," said Owens, in reference to NCAA scholarships. "When I went to college, I had a job.... Eight hours a day. I worked as a freight-elevator operator, going on at 4:30 p.m., and getting off at 12:30 a.m."
"And, I'm not so sure I agree with 'free' scholarships," added the former Olympian. "Maybe we should give some scholarship help, but just a little. If you give somebody everything, you take away the incentive, the appreciation.
"One thing I always tell youngsters is to strive to do their best. If they're in school, they should learn something, too. Because you can't be an athlete all your life. You have to prepare yourself for your life's work."
As a youngster, Owens set his goals.
"When I was 13 years old, in junior high school, I decided what I wanted to do athletically. Charles Paddock, who had participated in the 1920 Olympics, visited our school, and told about his experiences... what it meant to him. I said then I wanted to be like that. Paddock was my idol."
And, young Jesse had some help.
"When I was a kid, we used to have these races at school... every night. I found out I could run better than I could do anything else," he said. "And, I remember a guy by the name of Charles Riley. He was my junior high coach.
"We called him 'the old man,'" said Owens. "But, I'm here to tell you that we respected him. He was a strict disciplinarian. He was from the west side of Cleveland, and he didn't have to come over to the east side.... But, he did."
"He taught me how to sing my arms, how to bend my knees just right. He explained my anatomy, just what every part played while I was running. Even in high school, I'd seek Mr. Riley's advice."
And, that was the start.
Then, there was a stupendous, one-day, performance as a sophomore in college.
Never before, nor since, had such a track and field performance been turned in. That was May 25, 1935.
Mr. Owens, clad in the scarlet and gray of Ohio State University, tore the record book apart on that sunny afternoon at the University of Michigan's Ferry Field, in the Big 10 championships.
At 3:15 p.m., he streaked to victory in the 100-yard dash, equaling Frank Wykoff's world record of 9.4 seconds.
At 3:25, Mr. Owens took his first and only long-jump, clearing 26 ft, 8 1/4 in. to surpass by nearly a half-foot the world record previously held by Japah's Chuhei Nambu.
At 3:34, Owens flashed home an easy victor in the 200-yard dash, with a 20.3 clocking, slashing three-tenths of a second from Roland Locke's world record.
And, at 4 p.m., he scissored over the 220-yard low hurdles in 22.6, shaving four-tenths of a second off Charles R. Brokins' 11-year-old world record.
"I remember the day well," said Owens. "And, what I remember best was leaning against a flagpole, watching all the people come onto the field, and wondering if I could run at all."
"When it came to the pre-meet warm-up, I couldn't even jog because of a stiff back from a stair fall at a fraternity house two weeks before. And, when the call came for the 100, Larry Snyder, our Ohio State coach, suggested I scratch because of the sudden strain in the jolting start of the 100.
"But, I told Larry, "Let me try it... Maybe I'll snap out of it.' "My buddy, Charles Beeham (ace half-miler) helped me remove my sweatshirt. My back hurt, when I went into the starting crouch, but when the starter yelled to get set, I felt no pain. I jumped in front from the gun and stayed there."
After a 10-minute rest, Owens went to the jumping pit, with Snider's instruction to take only one leap and rest for the 220 and low hurdles.
"I didn't take a practice jump," he said. "But I placed a handkerchief aside the pit at the world distance mark of the Japanese Nambu. I did take a couple of runs for stride, then went the runway for keeps.
"I took off perfectly, and thought I'd never come down. When I did, I saw the handkerchief in back of me."
What the day's achievement amounted to was three world records, a share of a fourth, all within the span of two hours.
One year later, Owens was in Berlin, where he won everything except a handshake from Adolf Hitler.
"That didn't bother me," said Owens. "I wasn't running for Hitler. I was running for the United States."
The Fuhrer was in his loge the first day of the Olympics, and as one participant after another finished their events, they were led to the Hitler box for personal congratulations.
Then, Owens began his surge. He won the 100 meters in 10.3, and the 200 in 20.7. He captured the long jump with a leap of 26 ft., 5 3/8 in. Then, he anchored the 400-meter relay team to victory, capturing his fourth gold medal.
No man in the history of the Olympics has won four golds in a single year.
Even the Germans were in awe and praise of his achievement.
But, Hitler watched coldly from his loge, and when Owens was to receive his medals, Hitler looked the other way, then strode from his box.
Only one other Olympian has captured four track and field goals in the history of the games -- a 30-year-old housewife in 1948, Fanny Blanker-Koen.
"The 1948 games at London were the first since 1936," said Owens. All activity had been halted by the war (World War II)."
That (1936) was the last time I ran," said Owens. "I have another philosophy, too. People remember you for that last race... And, by the time 1948 rolled around, it had been too many years to try again."
"I had accomplished my goal."
I dug up a two stories from 1936 dealing with Owens' triumphs, as well as an account of Missouri's own Helen Stephens, who also excelled at track competition in the Berlin games:
A year later, Stephens strutted her stuff on the track at Houck Stadium. She came to Cape Girardeau in May 1937 to participate in exhibition races against 17-year-old Margaret Miller of Malden and Fanny Snow of Charleston, during the MIAA track carnival. This story was published May 15, 1937:
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The Southeast Missourian's resident historian Sharon K. Sanders blogs about interesting pieces of local history pulled from the newspaper's morgue -- the place where our old editions are kept.