Adolph Hitler had it all mapped out. He was hosting the Olympic Games in Berlin, the perfect showcase for his claim of Aryan superiority. Only one thing went wrong with his plan: Jesse Owens.
Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics – the long jump, 100 meters, 200 meters, and the 4-by-100 relay. And though he foiled the Fuhrer’s public relations ploy, the German people admired and rallied behind him in his demonstration of athletic greatness.
The long-held belief is that he was snubbed by Hitler. But Owens says he was indeed recognized by the German leader. “When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour in Germany.”
He also said, “Hitler didn’t snub me—it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.” FDR also never invited Owens to the White House to recognize his accomplishments.
His life after the Olympics spiraled downward, first in gimmicky sports promotions, then to bankruptcy and tax evasion. But he later picked himself up, and became a respected goodwill ambassador for the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Ford Motor Company.