Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics


At the 1936 Olympics, against a backdrop of swastikas and goose-stepping storm troopers, an African-American son of sharecroppers won a staggering four gold medals and single-handedly demonstrated that Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy was a lie. The story of Jesse Owens at the Berlin games is that of an athletic performance that transcends sports. It is also the intimate and complex tale of one remarkable man's courage. Drawing on unprecedented access to the Owens family, previously unpublished interviews, and ...
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At the 1936 Olympics, against a backdrop of swastikas and goose-stepping storm troopers, an African-American son of sharecroppers won a staggering four gold medals and single-handedly demonstrated that Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy was a lie. The story of Jesse Owens at the Berlin games is that of an athletic performance that transcends sports. It is also the intimate and complex tale of one remarkable man's courage. Drawing on unprecedented access to the Owens family, previously unpublished interviews, and exhaustive archival research, Jeremy Schaap transports us to Germany and tells the dramatic tale of Owens and his fellow athletes at the contest dubbed the Nazi Olympics.

With his incisive reporting and rich storytelling, Schaap reveals what really happened over those tense, exhilarating weeks in a nuanced and riveting work of sports history.

* Mp3 CD Format *. In 1936, against a backdrop of swastikas flying and storm troopers looming, an African-American son of sharecroppers set three world records and won an unprecedented four gold medals, single-handedly crushing Hitler's myth of Aryan supremacy. The story of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics Games is that of a high-profile athlete giving a performance that transcends sports. But it is also the intimate and complex tale of the courage of one remarkable man.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
It was an iconic moment in sports and, indeed, world history: A slender son of African-American sharecroppers wins four gold medals at "Hitler's Olympics." The story of Jesse Owens's triumphs at the 1936 Berlin Games has been told and retold, but never with the verve or authority that Jeremy Schaap gives it in this powerful book. To reveal the truth behind Owens's record-breaking achievements in Nazi Germany, the author of Cinderella Man draws on new and previously unpublished interviews; unprecedented access to the Owens family; and extensive archival research. The revelations include the surprising role that a German rival played in one of Owens's wins and the story of Jewish-American athletes who were deprived of a chance to compete.
Publishers Weekly
Written as though the film treatment were already completed, Schaap's chronicle of Jesse Owens's journey to and glorious triumph at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is snappy and dramatic, with an eye for the rousing climax, through curiously slight on follow-through. Starting with Owens as the well-feted ex-athlete in the 1950s, Schaap (an ESPN anchor and author of Cinderella Man) flashes back to Owens's childhood in 1920s Cleveland, where junior high coach Charles Riley spotted his astounding physique and near limitless potential for track and field. Owens seems so perfectly made for running and jumping that the following years of ever-increasing athletic and popular success are less exciting than preordained. By the time the "Ebony Antelope" (as one of many adoring newspapermen had anointed him) was ready for Berlin, his success was practically guaranteed. The real drama of Schaap's book, which surprisingly skimps on Owens the person, comes in the politically fractious runup to Berlin (for the ceremony-obsessed Hitler, "a fascist fantasy come true"). While the story has been told many times, Schaap makes good use of his prodigious research and access to the Owens family, even digging up the fact that Owens's oft-repeated claim he was snubbed by Hitler and the Berlin crowd was very likely untrue. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
From the ESPN anchor who brought us Cinderella Man. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From the author of Cinderella Man (2005), another true-life tale of an underdog asserting his worth with a sports triumph. Schaap, the host of ESPN's Outside the Lines, seeks to cut through the apocryphal tales that sprang up in the wake of Jesse Owens's record-breaking performance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin by drawing on accounts from sportswriters, eyewitnesses and the athlete himself. He attempts to get inside Owens's head while exploring everything from Hitler's alleged snubbing of black athletes to the nature of the unlikely friendship between the American track star and German long-jumper Luz Long. Like many African-Americans of the time, Owens (1913-80) grew up in poverty and grappled with discrimination. While at Ohio State, he pumped gas for hours each day to support his wife and young child; even though he'd tied several world records on his high-school track team, he was not offered a scholarship. Success and controversy followed. He endured accusations of obtaining money from the Ohio state legislature without having earned it, racy tabloid stories of romantic trysts and questions about the genetic advantages of black athletes. With the help of high-school mentor Charles Riley and college coach Larry Snyder, Owens qualified for the Olympics. After a lengthy debate about whether participation in the Nazi Games was ethical-a discussion that had special resonance for African-Americans, whose circumstances bore striking similarities to those faced by Jews-the U.S. chose to take part, setting the stage for Owens to show the world a true superman not descended from Aryan stock. The author offers an in-depth story whose only flaw is its narrow timeframe, depriving readers of alook at Owens's later years. Explodes off the blocks and proceeds with grace and fluidity.
From the Publisher
"Michael Kramer's no-nonsense delivery greatly enhances the production." —-AudioFile
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618919109
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 2/5/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 224,939
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeremy Schaap is the author of the New York Times bestseller Cinderella Man. An ESPN anchor and national correspondent, his work has been published in Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, Time, Parade, TV Guide, and the New York Times. He has also appeared on ABC's World News Tonight and the CBS Evening News. He is the son of the award-winning journalist Dick Schaap.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue Just before 9:30 p.m. central time on September 23, 1955, in a handsome townhouse on Chicago’s South Side, James Cleveland Owens slipped into a tweed jacket and sat down in a straight-backed chair. As he smoothed out his pencil mustache and slicked back his hair—what little was left of it—a dozen technicians put the finishing touches on what had been an allday job, wiring and lighting the Owens home. In a few minutes, Owens would be talking live on national television with Edward R. Murrow of CBS, on his celebrity interview show Person to Person. More than 20 million Americans would watch as Murrow spoke from a studio in New York via satellite, first with Owens and his family, and then, in the second half of the show, with Leonard Bernstein and his.
A forty-two-year-old father of three, Jesse Owens weighed twenty- five pounds more than he had in Berlin in 1936, when he had turned in the most indelible performance ever at the Olympic games. In his conservative jacket, flannel slacks, white shirt, and dark tie, he could have passed for a fifty-year-old. Not that he wasn’t in superb shape. He was. In fact, just a few months earlier he had run 100 yards in 9.9 seconds, less than a second slower than his personal best. He still held the world record in both the broad jump (now called the long jump) and the 4 x 100-meter relay—though both records had been set in the mid-1930s.
For his part, Murrow was readying himself for another half-hour of banalities. No one confused Person to Person with See It Now, Murrow’s other show on CBS, the one on which eighteen months earlier he had neutered Senator Joseph McCarthy. Despite the fluff, Murrow was eager to speak with Owens, whose legend had grown significantly since 1936. Here, Murrow thought, was a legitimate American hero, the man who had humbled the Third Reich. For Owens, the appearance with Murrow was emblematic of his enhanced stature. In the first fifteen years after his athletic career ended, he had struggled to find his way, professionally and financially. He made more money than the vast majority of his fellow Americans—in the dry-cleaning business, at Ford Motors, working for the state of Illinois—but the windfall he expected in the aftermath of his Olympic heroics never materialized. Banned from amateur competition after an imbroglio with American track officials, he had raced against horses—most famously in Havana, in December 1936, defeating Julio McCaw, a five-year-old bay gelding, after the horse spotted him a 40-yard advantage. In 1938, on the occasion of the first night baseball game at Ebbets Field, he raced two speedy major-league outfielders, spotting them several yards. He barnstormed with a black baseball team and campaigned for the Republican presidential candidate Alf Landon. In countless ways, he sold himself—but he never had much to show for it. Until now.
By the time Owens sat down to speak with Murrow, he was well on his way to becoming an institution—the Jesse Owens who would spend the rest of his life telling his story to appreciative audiences around the world, the Jesse Owens who could have been a hero from Horatio Alger, if Alger’s heroes had not all been white. In the years after his Olympic victories, his achievements in Berlin had been overshadowed by World War II. But by 1955, at the end of the first decade of the cold war, he was finally getting his due. He was in demand as a banquet speaker and making good money because he had become useful—to industry and government—as a symbol of the opportunities America promised and sometimes delivered. To the delight of white America and most of black America, he disputed the sentiments of Paul Robeson, the All-American football player turned actor/ singer, who famously suggested that African-Americans would not and should not fight for the United States in the event of war with the Soviet Union. Owens, in contrast, held himself out as an example of what black Americans could achieve, despite the indignities and slights he had suffered his entire life. He agreed with Jackie Robinson, who in his 1949 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee had said that blacks had too much invested in the American experiment to support its enemies.
Just a few days after his appearance on Person to Person, Owens was to embark, at the behest of the State Department, on a goodwill tour of Singapore, Malaya, the Philippines, and India. As A. M. Rosenthal, then the New York Times correspondent in South Asia, put it, Owens’s mission was “to make friends for the United States.” Having fought the fascists with his fleetness of foot, he would now fight the Communists with his charm and rhetoric—even thhough some Indian writers, unversed in the annals of the Olympics, confused him with Sir Owen Dixon, an Australian judge and United NNNNNations mediator.
Before the long ride to the subcontinent, though, there was the interview with Murrow, whose fondness for bespoke tailoring matched his own. Finally, at 9:30, with a cigarette clenched in his left hand, Murrow began the interview.
“Jesse Owens,” he said, “is generally recognized as the greatest track star of the last half-century. His performance in Berlin stands unmatched in modern times. Statistics will never indicate Adolf Hitler’s reaction as he watched a twenty-three-year-old boy from Danville, Alabama, run the athletes of the master race right into the ground.” Owens, whose politeness was among his defining characteristics, declined to correct Murrow by pointing out that he had been twenty-two, not twenty-three, and was from Oakville, Alabama, not Danville. He simply smiled and waited for the questions he knew were coming, the questions that always came.
After several minutes of amiable chatter—“You look to be in almost good enough condition to get out your old track shoes again”—and the introduction of Owens’s wife and three pretty daughters, Murrow offered him the opportunity to talk about the games of the Eleventh Olympiad. “Jesse Owens,” he said, “what’s your warmest memory of that August of 1936?” Owens had been asked this question, or its variants, perhaps hundreds of times. He did not hesitate. “I remember a boy,” he said, his accent betraying no hint of his southern roots, “that I competed against in the broad jump—a boy with whom I built a friendship—and we corresponded for a number of years, and then the war broke out, and I didn’t hear any more from him at all.” Owens looked down and away from the camera. The boy he was referring to was Luz Long, the silver medalist, a pureblooded Aryan from Leipzig who had helped him reach the broad-jump finals when he had been on the verge of disqualifying. Composing himself, Owens talked about Long’s son Kai—Owens and Kai had met in 1951—and then about winning the 100-meter dash. But he had not yet answered Murrow’s question.
“I think that the greatest moment that a person can have is to stand on a victory stand,” he said, “far away from home, and then, from the distance you can hear the strains of ‘The Star- Spangled Banner,’ and then suddenly you make a left turn and you see the Stars and Stripes rising higher and higher, and the higher the Stars and Stripes rose the louder the strains of the Star-Spangled Banner would be heard. I think that’s the greatest moment of my whole athletic career.” Finished, he smiled, looking slightly off-camera.
“Thank you very much, Jesse Owens,” Murrow said, taking a deep drag. “In just a moment, we’ll take you for a visit with Leonard Bernstein and his wife, Felicia Montealegre.” Now Owens rose from his chair and dug into his pants pockets. Unlike Murrow, he had not dared to smoke on camera. Acutely conscious of his image, it simply would not do for Jesse Owens, the great track champion, to be seen smoking on network television. Nor did he want any of the young people who idolized him to think that he condoned the use of tobacco. But now that the technicians were coiling their cables and packing their cases, he pulled out a cigarette, lit up, and inhaled. Eventually, this habit would kill him—as it killed Murrow. But he was hooked, of course, and he would just as soon have joined the Communist Party as quit his Camels.
As the crew finally moved his couch and coffee table back where they belonged—into the deep indentations in the carpet—Owens and his wife, Ruth, carefully returned his memorabilia to a display case. A few special items had been freed from the case temporarily, for Murrow and his audience to see clearly. There were the bronzed spikes. And the medals. The laurel wreaths. All the tokens of his youthful greatness. He had collected them nineteen years earlier, in Germany, with the eyes of the world fixed on him, in an atmosphere charged by an ascendant Third Reich, on a continent that would soon convulse in war and genocide.
Nothing Jesse Owens did at the Olympic stadium diminished the horrors to come. He saved no lives. However, for those paying close enough attention, Owens, in Berlin, revealed essential truths. While the western democracies were perfecting the art of appeasement, while much of the rest of the world kowtowed to the Nazis, Owens stood up to them at their own Olympics, refuting their venomous theories with his awesome deeds.

Copyright © 2007 by Jeremy Schaap. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Table of Contents

Prologue     xi
Part I
A Day to Remember     3
Out of Alabama     14
Vincible     31
Heel Bones and a New Start     55
Part II
The Judge and the Millionaire     63
"We Are with You, Adolf"     83
A Blessing in Disguise     98
Jew Kills Nazi     105
A Friend and a Foe Felled     112
Olympic Trials     122
Part III
Olympia     137
The Belle of the Ball     142
The Battle Tent of Some Great Emperor     150
The Youth of the World     159
Day One     172
Day Two     183
Day Three     196
"He Flies Like the Hindenburg": Day Four     213
The Relay     219
Epilogue     230
Notes     237
Acknowledgments     257
Index     261
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2008

    A reviewer

    Jesse owens was a great man and legend. I knew prior to reading this book who he was. but this book goes into great detail. He actually wasn't born in ohio. He was born in Alabama. This was just one of the many facts that were unknown to me. He stood up to Hitler and the perfect time, and to think that the olympics were almost canceled. He was on the front page of the newspapers being congratulated and critisized. People defeated him but it just made him more experienced. Which in the end helped him come out on the top. People have described him as the fastest human alive. Even though today people have surpased his records when you take into consideration what he had back then, he would've beat you. He is a classic hero that supported america and gave it a boost that we needed. This book really explained in detail what happened at the olympics and before. Sometimes the book got off topic and got a little boring because they clipped a lot from newspapers and magazines. It has it's good and bad parts. Overall it was an okay book and i would recommend it if you're looking for factual information that is highly supported.

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    Posted June 11, 2009

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    Posted July 30, 2009

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