Lantern file photo
Frequent trips to the trio of recreational facilities on campus with Jesse Owens in the title might have led students to forget the significance behind the man who not only left a legacy at Ohio State, but across the United States and the world.
This weekend, the OSU Men’s and Women’s Track and Field teams will compete in the Jesse Owens Track Classic, an event that holds a special meaning to the Buckeyes.
“This is one of the biggest meets for us,” said senior sprinter Thomas Murdaugh. “It’s something that we all look forward to because it is the Jesse Owens Classic, and to be able to run at the meet dedicated to the greatest athlete of all-time, it’s always a big deal for us.”
Owens gained international fame when he became the first American track and field athlete to win four gold medals in a single Olympics during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
The Jesse Owens Award was named after him to honor his career, and is the highest accolade in U.S. track and field, awarded to the year’s best track and field athlete.
But before Owens was an Olympic hero and international track and field icon, he was an OSU student.
Owens enrolled at OSU in October of 1933 at the age of 20. In addition to track and classes, he worked part-time as a freight elevator operator at the State House to help pay his tuition. OSU did not offer Owens a scholarship.
During the 1930’s, the U.S. was in a state of racial tension, and the OSU community was no exception. Owens was not permitted to live on campus with the white students because of his race; he instead resided off campus with several other African-American students.
No restaurant along High Street would serve African-Americans, and when Owens traveled with the team, he often had to eat in separate restaurants.
Despite facing segregation and setbacks, Owens proved to be one of the greatest athletes in the history of OSU and the world. On May 25, 1935, during the Big Ten Finals in Ann Arbor, Mich., in what some call the greatest single-day performance in athletic history,
Owens accomplished in 45 minutes what some athletes never achieve their entire career: three world records and a tie for a fourth.
Men’s interim coach Ed Beathea said the Buckeyes strive to exemplify the university Owens once competed for and think the meet named in his honor is important for his team.
“I think this weekend … should remind us of how significant Jesse Owens was and his performances were to track and field, to Ohio State and to the country,” Beathea said. “I think you always feel like you want to go out there and make sure you’re prepared to run your best, and that your efforts are everything that you have, so that you’re a good representation of the place where Jesse Owens ran.”
Owens’ life off the track consisted of several business and personal ventures, including travels to India, Philippines, Malaysia and The Ivory Coast, where he lead running clinics and promoted economic and political freedoms of the U.S.
Owens was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974, and two years later President Gerald Ford presented Owens with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor given by the U.S. government according to OSU archives.
Owens died March 31, 1980, at the age of 66. In April 2011, OSU unveiled a statue of Owens at the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in honor of achievements.
Women’s track and field coach Karen Dennis said Owen’s life can send a message not only to athletes, but to all who are inspired by Owen’s story.
“I think that he represents the epitome of greatness in track and field; as a human being, his humanity, his unselfishness and as well as his major accomplishments in his track and field. So we are all inspired by Jesse Owens. For our young people to run in the Jesse Owens relays, I think it gives them an opportunity to remember the challenges that he had, as well as how great he became despite challenges,” Dennis said. “I think that’s what we really have to do in athletics is that we have to continue to do our best, no matter what the challenge is that each of us individually face.”
The Jesse Owens Classic will kick off competition Friday in the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium at 4 p.m. with the women’s javelin and men’s discus. The meet will continue Saturday with events starting at 10:30 a.m. Men’s coach Robert Gary has left the university according to an OSU spokesperson. Beathea will coach the team in his place.