Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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In ‘My Greatest Olympic Prize’ Jesse Owen Tells of How Humanity Triumphed Over Racial Bigotry

Jesse Owens (1813-1980), a long jumper and short-distance runner is a Black American. He was born at Alabama and expired at Arizona, USA. At 1936 Berlin Olympic Games he won four Gold Medals. It was the time when the Germany was under Adolf Hitler, and swept by his idea of Germans as a superior to all other people. ‘My Greatest Olympic Prize’ is a piece of Owen’s autographical account of the historically reported fact of an event that occurred between him and Luz Long, the German long jumper during the Berlin Olympic in 1936. The event was regarded as the most famous and mythical case of the Olympic Games. The greatest Olympic prize was not the historical achievement of winning of the four medals.

My Greatest Olympic Prize is a small but a significant piece of memoirs that Jesse Owens narrated. It was summer of 1936 and the Olympic Games were being held in Berlin, capital of Germany. Adolf Hitler intended that his athletes were the members of ‘a master race’ and as such the national feeling of the achievement in the games was very high. But, Owens described it as ‘childishly insisted’ and he was not worry about Hitler’s myth of master race. He rather with his hard training of six years with the games thought of taking home one or two gold medals. People also expected that he could win the games because he already set world records in the previous year.

In the trials of the long jump event, Owens was in for a surprise to see a tall boy to be a German named Luz Long who was the country’s hope of winning gold medal in the game of long jump. To Owens the winning of Luz Long could be a new support to the Nazis’ Aryan-Superiority theory, and hence as a challenge he became determined to show who would be superior between an American Negro and Aryan. But in the trial event Owens fouled on his first two attempts out of three qualifying jumps. He bitterly thought of failing even in the trials and his anger was seen when he kicked disgustedly at the ground. Suddenly Luz Long who was already qualified for final offered Owens a handshake. Owens also greeted him hiding his nervousness. Luz Long pointed to the take-off board and advised Jesse to jump a few inches behind the usual take-off spot by drawing a line. Suddenly, his tension was eased to see the truth of what Luz Long said. Owens followed the advice and he was qualified for the final event. A sense of friendship between two athletes could easily calm down the tension of Owens, and Luz was happy to disclose the defect of his friend which might involve sacrifice in the field of competition. That night Owens walked over to Luz’s room to thank him. Owens knew that if it hadn’t been for Luz he probably would not be jumping in the finals. They talked for two hours and both of them knew that a real friendship had been formed. Owens wrote ‘But I knew that he wanted me to do my best even if that means my winning’.

In the finals Luz broke his own past record and Owens won the Gold Medal. Though Luz could not win the game, he was the first person who shook hand and congratulated Owens with smile which, Jesse felt that it was not a fake ‘smile with a broken heart’. It was despite of the fact that Hitler glared at them from the stand not a hundred yards away. At that moment Owens felt for Luz Long that if he could melt down all the gold medals and cups he had, they would not be plating on the 24-carat friendship. The statement shows that there is no place of selfishness and value of reputation of Olympic gold medals in such a true friendship which is a priceless possession between them. Owens realised that Luz was epitome of what Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman whose effort were responsible for revival of the Olympic Games in the year 1896, “must have had in mind when he said, the important thing in Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well”. This remark vividly expressed how Luz showcased of Olympic spirit of sportsmanship.

A pen picture of Luz in the words of Owens as a friendly blue eye   and a tall German, a tall boy, an inch taller than him who did not believe in the Aryan-Supremacy business, a lean muscular frame, clear blue eyes, fair hair and striking handsome face, has vividly expressed the outer and inner appearance of Luz.

The tittles of the memoirs is very impressive and it highlights that author’s greatest Olympic prize was not the four Gold Medals which he, an American Negro had single headedly won four gold Medals against the Hitler’s myth of Aryan-supremacy. His greatest prise was the true friendship formed between him and Luz with a sense of spirit of true sportsmanship. This is what made the event most interesting and regarded it as most significant in either its impact or implication in the history of Olympic Games.

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