I love some of the minutae of history, particularly when it concerns an event which you think you know about but, jogged into looking a little harder, you realise you had it wrong all the time. Thus, I am obliged to Der Spiegel for raising the subject of Jesse Owens and the 'Hitler Olympics'.
Provoked by their article I went to Wiki to brush up my knowledge of this amazing athlete. I had not realised that he won four gold medals at the 1936 games, the 100m and 200m sprints, the long jump and the 400m relay. It was the long jump that caused the controversy because in that his closest rival was Luz Long (at right in the photo), an archetypal Aryan and exactly the sort of man Hitler expected to easily beat a 'subhuman black'. To Hitler's intense irritation Owens won on the very last jump and to his eternal credit, Luz Long immediately approached him, offered his congratulations and embraced him - an act which earned him a reprimand from Rudolph Hess. Subsequent talk of an eternal friendship between the two men is probably exaggerated and in any event Long was later killed whilst fighting in Sicily.
Needless to say, there is an irony of the most bitter and sardonic sort in the life story of Jesse Owens. In Berlin he was free to eat and drink and stay in hotels with whites but back in America it was altogether different. According to Wiki:
And there is an even greater irony to be chewed upon and enjoyed - sort of - in the fact that whilst Owens received a commemorative signed photograph from Hitler, he didn't even get a 'kiss my arse' from that leading 'brotherhood of man', democrat socialist of his day, President Roosevelt, or his successor, Harry Truman. It was only in 1955 that President Eisenhower, a Republican, bestowed the first national honour on Owens. (To be fair to the 'Great Republic', I do think the way it gradually divested itself of its public colour prejudice is one of its very greatest achievements.)
Owens's subsequent life was one of several ups followed by several downs including bankruptcy and a conviction for tax evasion. However, late in life the US government appointed him as a Goodwill Ambassador and he ended his life in reasonable financial comfort. Perhaps the most bitter of all the ironies in his life is that after being a smoker for 35 years he finally died at the age of 66 of lung cancer!