In the week that the world pays tribute to THE GREATEST, Mohammed Ali and says farewel in Louisville, KY I went to see the new movie RACE at a local movie complex, and remember the life of Jesse Owens with the movie.
I first watched Ali fight under his old 'slave name' of Cassius Marcellus Clay. on 5th September 1960 at the Palazzo dello Sport in front of a capacity crowd of 16,000. There were 10 final that night and USA and Italy each won 3 gold medals. I remember the crowd singing 'Italia, Italia' their national anthem with passion. It is still my favourite anthem.. Nino Benvenuti's win was very populat. Clay was the third American winner in a row to win gold that night, in the Light Heavyweight division, and defeated Poland's Zbigniew Pietrzowski on points with his soon to be famous dancing and prodding style. On returning home he was refused entry at a local restaurant and threw his gold medal into the Ohio river.
It was my first ever overseas trip and cost £26.00 including round trip train and ferry from London via Dover, Paris, via Switzerland to Roma Termini stazione. It included a weeks accommodation with three meals daily. WHAT A BARGAIN !. I watched athletics daily in Stadio Olympico, football at Stadio Flaminio, hockey at Stadio del Marmi (marble stadium), and the boxing finals. That ticket was about £1.00. These days there are 11 boxing finals for men spread over 2 nights and very expensive tickets. Outside the Olympic village USA athletes were selling all their gear, jackets, pants, shirts, shoes, bags..whatever....
The next time I saw him in the ring was on 6th February 1967 at the Houston Astrodome. I took some photos and asked some questions after he had been sparring the day before his fight with Ernie Terrell in his 8th defense of the heavyweight title. It went 15 rounds with Ali punishing his former friend who had roomed together many times in Florida and still called him Cassius. It was Ali at his ugliest .He kept taunting Terrell with 'What's my name'. 37,000 in attendance.
The last time was in 1977 in Giants Stadium NYC, October 01, on the occasion of Pele's farewell match where the Brazilian played 45 minutes for The New York Cosmos and 45 minutes for his old club Santos. Ali greeted Pele before kick-off with other greeters including Gordon Banks and President Gerald Ford's son who was ringed by US Secret Service protection. ...and he wasn't even THE KING, or THE GREATEST !. Cosmos won 2-1.
JESSE OWENS was actually born James Cleveland 'JC' Owens 12th September 1913, the last of 10 children to an Alabama sharecropper. The family moved up north to Cleveland OH find work when he was 9 years old . His new teacher asked his name and in a Southern accent said JC Owens. She wrote down JESSE and the name stuck forever. His achievement for Ohio State at a Big 10 meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1935 has been described as 'The greatest 45 minutes in the history of sport.' He broke 3 world records and equalled a fourth in well under an hour..
He sailed with a US delegation of 381 on SS Manhattan on July 15th 1936, a 9 day voyage to Bremerhaven, Germany. 312 were athletes and included 18 negroes. At the docks on arrival he was already famous and one person greeting him was ADI DASSLER who had a company later called ADIDAS who presented him with a pair of his lightweight spiked running shoes. The delegation took the train to Berlin where they were housed without segregation in the Olympic Village.
At Ohio State he was not given a scholarship and along with other negroes had to live off campus and work to live and send money back to his girlfriend and 3 year old daughter and unemployed father. He was later give an $80.00 a month paige job at the state senate but didn't have to show up for work.
The Olympic Games opened on August 01 after the first ever Olympic relay from Olympia ,Greece reached the Olympiastadion with Fritz Schligen lighting the cauldren. The Games nearly didn't take place at all. There was a big boycott movement in USA and other countries due to Hitler's and the Nazi's racial policy. The US Olympic committee had a meeting at the Commodore Hotel in NYC to discuss a proposed boycott. Chairman Avery Brundage, a former US Olympic decathlon and pentathlon athlete 1912 games in Stockholm. (Both events won by Jim Thorpe).and now head of a successful construction business, was sent by air to Berlin for information. (I once flew from London to New York for an NSCAA soccer convention and was robbed while I slept in my room.in the Commodore about 1970.)
Joseph Goebbles the Reich Minister for Propoganda had persuaded Adolf Hitler to back the Olympics and the budget had been increased 20 fold. Neither were interested in sport, ( Goebels had a club foot and Hitler had only one ball !!) Brundage was suspicious but given assurances that anti Jewish signs would be taken down and that Negroes and Jews would be allowed to compete. A few did but none for Germany.. He was also 'bribed' by being offered the job of his company getting the contract for a new German Embassy in Washington D.C.
Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals in the 100 metres, 200 metres, long jump and 4 x 100 metre relay. and Aryan superiority was proved to be a myth. One of the sub plots was the long jump clash between Owens and the German and European champion Lutz Long who got the silver medal and helped his American competitor. Long became friends with Owens and wrote him a number of letters including a final one about 1943. Long was sent to the front line and was badly wounded as the Allies advanced in Sicily and he died in a British field hospital age 30 on 14th July 1943.
His son Kai born in 1943 never knew his father but kept in touch with the Owens family. for many years.At the 2009 World IAAF championships in Berlin the grand daughters of both Owens and Lang , Marlene Dortch and Jukia-Vanessa Lang presented the long jump medals.
I have visited the Olympiastadion a number of times and in the mid 1970's sat in the Fuehrer's VIP tribune to imagine the atmospherer of 4 decades earlier and to write an article. Leni Riefentahl had over 60 cameras to make a movie called OLYMPIA, that came out in 1938 with many original ideas of close ups, camera angles and more. The new stadiums cost a lot of money including the 100,000 capacity main stadium. Not so good was the basketball competition held in the nearby Tennis Stadium which was outdoors and it rained a lot during the Games of the X1 th Olympiade and the games were played on a clay court !!!