August 19, 2016

An Olympic story from 80 years ago

Letters of Note

Above: Luz Long and Jesse Owens

To win four gold medals at a single Olympic Games is astonishing enough; however, to do so as a black person in 1936, at a tense Olympic Games hosted by Adolf Hitler, is almost beyond belief. Yet Jesse Owens did exactly that, somehow managing to ignore talk of Aryan superiority to take gold in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, and long jump, all in the space of a few days. He also made a good friend in the form of German athlete Luz Long, the blond-haired, blue-eyed, long jump rival who swapped training tips with Owens and openly congratulated him after his final jump, in full view of Hitler.

Having bonded so well at the Games, Owens and Long kept in touch by mail. Below is Long's last letter, written during WWII from North Africa where he was stationed with the German Army and later killed in action. It reached Owens a year after it was sent. Years later, as per Long's request, Owens met and became firm friends with his son, Karl. He also went on to serve as best man at his wedding.

The Last Letter

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