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Two American Athletes Who Humiliated Hitler



As Adolph Hitler gained power as dictator in Germany where he propagated and perpetuated his ideology that the Aryan race is Earth’s superior race, the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games provided him with a world stage.

Reich Chancellor Hitler sought to display his united Germany as the world’s superpower, both militarily and athletically, in order to compensate for Germany’s devastating defeat in World War I.

Germany won the bid over Barcelona during the 29th International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting on April 26, 1931. Hitler set his propaganda machine into motion, building a 100,000-seat track and field stadium, several smaller arenas and six gymnasiums.

The 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games were not televised, but Hitler knew that the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games would become the first to be televised, and he knew that 49 nations would be competing with radio broadcasts providing coverage to 41 countries.

Known as the Games of the XI Olympiad, the Berlin Olympic Games showcased 3,963 male athletes and 331 women athletes competing in 129 events in 19 sports, 25 disciplines.

Hitler was not counting on the U.S. having a secret weapon, James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens, the grandson of a slave and the son of a sharecropper from Oakville, Al.

Owens received “Jesse” as his nickname after his grade school teacher thought that he said that his name was, “Jesse,” rather than what he had actually told her, that he went by his initials, J. C.

With Hitler in the stands, Owens tied his own world record in the 100-yard dash, 9.4. Next, he set a new world record in the long jump by jumping 26’8” which was 6” longer than anyone had previously leaped.

After a short rest, Owens broke yet another world record by shattering the record in the 220-yard dash, and he added insult to injury to Hitler’s claim that Germany represented Aryan superiority when he won his third individual gold medal by setting a new world record in the 220-yard hurdles.

Still not finished with torpedoing Hitler’s claim of racial supremacy and his anti-Semitism policies in Nazi Germany, Owens won his fourth gold medal by competing as a member of the 4 X 100 relay team that also set a world record.

No Olympian in the history of the Olympics had garnered four gold medals and set more than one world record in the process. Thus, humiliated by Owens, Hitler left the stadium early without shaking Owens’ hand as he had done for some of the German winners.

Germany won the most medals, 89. The U.S. finished second with 56. Due to World War II, the war Hitler’s Nazi Germany aggression started, no Olympic Games were held again until 1948. Owens’ record of winning four gold medals was not equaled until Carl Lewis, another black athlete, achieved the feat during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

Joseph Lewis Barrow, better known as Joe Lewis “the Brown Bomber” held the heavyweight championship of the world longer than any champion in history. He finished his career with 68 wins and only three losses with 54 knockouts. His first loss was to Max Schmeling in June of 1936 before the 1936 Berlin Olympics were held from Aug. 1-16.

Lewis served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and it is un-telling what his career victories would have totaled had Hitler’s aggression not led to World War II that interrupted his boxing career.

Like Owens, Lewis was born in Alabama, the son of a sharecropper whose father and mother had been slaves. When Lewis was two, Mun Barrow, his father, was committed to an asylum, and Lillie, his mother, remarried and moved with her new husband to Detroit. Lewis used the money that his mother gave him for violin lessons to take boxing lessons at the Brewster Recreation Center.

Before Lewis became the heavyweight champion of the world by defeating James J. Braddock on June 22, 1937 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, he had suffered his first defeat, a 12-round knockout loss to Schmeling in 1936 prior to the Olympic Games in Berlin, a loss that Hitler used as propaganda by touting Schmeling’s victory as an example of Aryan supremacy.

The rematch between Lewis and Schmeling took place in 1938 in Yankee Stadium where 70,043 boxing fans gathered to witness Lewis pound Schmeling into submission in just two minutes and four seconds of the first round, a humiliating defeat for Schmeling and the Nazi propaganda machine.

The championship match had been hyped by the press as being a bout between Nazi ideology and American ideals. When Schmeling’s handlers threw in the towel before the first round ended, Lewis had landed more than 50 punches while Schmeling had thrown only five.

Both Owens and Lewis were stellar stars in their respective careers as athletes, and Lewis remains the record holder for reigning as the heavyweight boxing champion for the most years, nearly 12. Both humiliated Hitler on the world stage by shredding his claim of Aryan supremacy.

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