Champions for Equality
In the 1936 Olympics, American Jesse Owens seemed sure to win the Long Jump Competition. The previous year he had jumped a record-breaking 26 feet, 81/4 inches.
As he walked to the long-jump pit, however, Owens saw a tall, blue-eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26-foot range. Owens felt nervous. He was acutely aware of the Nazis’ desire to prove “Aryan superiority”. And as a black son of a share cropper, he knew what it was like to feel inferior.
On his first jump, Owens inadvertently leapt from several inches beyond the takeoff board. Rattled, he fouled on his second attempt, too. Another foul and he would be eliminated. At this point, the tall German introduced himself as Luz Long. “You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed!” he said to Owens, referring to his upcoming two jumps.
For the next few moments, the African American and the white specimen of Nazi manhood chatted together. Then Long made a suggestion. Since the qualifying distance was only 23 feet, .52 inches, why not make a mark several inches before the takeoff board and jump from there, just to play it safe? Owens did that and qualified easily.
In the finals, Owens set an Olympic record and earned the second of four gold medals. The first person to congratulate him was Luz Long – in full view of Adolph Hitler. Owens never saw Long again; he was later killed in World War II.
“You could melt down all the medals and cups I have,” Owens later writes, “and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long.”
Bernard Shaw was once asked as to what he thought of a particular person. His spontaneous reply was, “I hate him.” To the query, “Why?” his reply was, “Because I don’t know him.” Until Jesse Owens got to know him, Luz Long was just another German Nazi supremacist.