One of the most legendary athletes in history, Jesse Owens, who famously won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games, has been posthumously awarded the IAAF Golden Order of Merit.
Using the opportunity of his recent visit to the USATF Annual Meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, IAAF President Lamine Diack presented the award to a representative of the Jesse Owens Foundation on Thursday evening and said:
“I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity on two occasions in the early 1970s to spend time with Jesse Owens. What impressed me most about Jesse, was not just his wonderful World records in Ann Arbor or his four gold medals in Berlin, but all the challenges he faced up to as a man.”
“Jesse was never given a scholarship and had to work while pursuing athletics, he faced racial prejudice, and he was forced to drop out of amateur sport soon after his Olympic triumph and had to resort to racing horses to make a living.”
“Yet there was never a bit of bitterness about Jesse. He never complained and continued to love our sport and continued to give back throughout his life.”
“He was a genuine role model and I’m very proud to bestow the IAAF’s highest award to the memory of Jesse Owens, and to recognise his great achievements as an athlete and a man.”
James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens was born on 12 September 1913, in Oakville, Alabama, and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He was given the name Jesse by a teacher who did not understand his accent when the young Owens said his name was J. C.
The product of a poor family, Owens was able to attend college only after Ohio State University gave his father a job, allowing Owens to pursue his academic and athletic career. While competing for Ohio State, Owens achieved one of the finest feats in the history of athletics. At the Big-Ten Conference Championships in Ann Arbor on 25 May 1935, Owens set World records in the Long Jump, 220 yard dash, the 220 yard low hurdles, and equalled the World record in the 100 yard dash. His record leap in the Long Jump of 8.13 was not broken until 1960, 25 years later.
At the Olympic Games in Berlin the following year, Owens captured gold medals in the 100 metres, 200 metres, the Long Jump, and ran the lead-off leg in the victorious 400 metre Relay.
Forced out of the sport after his Olympic triumph, Owens later earned a living running exhibition events, before starting his own public relations firm.
In 1976 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford, the highest honor a civilian in the United States can receive. In 1990 he was posthumously given the Congressional Gold Medal by Presiden George H. W. Bush.
Owens died on 31 March 1980 at the age of 66.