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Summer Olympics: The Spirit of America

Summer Olympics: The Spirit of America
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On Saturday, August 6, 2016, the first day of Olympic competition, a 19-year-old woman from West Virginia, a first-time Olympian, faced tremendous odds against a 2004 gold medalist from China, and the number one ranked woman in the world from Serbia. She managed to pull off an upset in the Women’s 10 Meter Air Rifle Event setting an Olympic record and winning a gold medal. Ginny Thrasher became another American who beat the odds in the Olympics and is another example of the Spirit of America that is and has been such an important piece of America’s triumphs in the summer Olympic Games.


Politics and the 1936 Olympics

One of the most challenging Olympic Games of the 20th century took place in Berlin, Germany in 1936. These games were designed to be a showplace for Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and a display of the prowess of the Aryan nation’s men and women over all other nations in the world. Hitler had great expectations that German athletes would dominate the competition but that all changed when the Spirit of America represented by the American athletes arrived in Berlin.


Jesse Owens

Probably the most famous of those athletes was Jesse Owens. Jesse, an African-American, came from very humble roots. His father was a sharecropper in Alabama who moved north to Cleveland, Ohio searching for a better opportunity to support his family. It was in Cleveland that the junior high track coach noticed something special about Jesse Owens and invited him to go out for the track team. As they say, the rest is history.

In high school, Jesse equaled the world record, of 9.4 seconds, in the 100 yd dash. He went on to Ohio State and led the track team to 8 NCAA Championships in 1934, 1935, and 1936.

Later in 1936 Jesse traveled to Berlin to compete in the 1936 Summer Olympic Games. Jesse was the most successful athlete at the games and showed the world that Hitler’s proclamation of the superiority of the Aryan race was a myth. Jesse won 4 gold medals at the Berlin Olympics:

On August 3rd he won the 100 Meter Dash, on August 4th he won the Long Jump, on August 5th he won the 200 Meter Dash and on August 9th he was a member of the gold medal 4×100 Sprint Relay Team.

It was reported on the first day of competition that Hitler shook hands with only the German victors and then left the stadium. The next day the Olympic Committee insisted that he shake the hands of all the winners, or none at all and Hitler chose to do the latter.

The Spirit of America was alive and well beyond Jesse’s exceptional accomplishments. There were four other African-American athletes that medaled in these Olympics. Ralph Metcalfe lost to Jesse Owens in the 100 Meter Dash by 1/10th of a second. He received a silver medal for coming in second and a gold medal for being a member of the 4×100 Sprint Relay Team. John Woodruff received a gold medal by winning the 800 Meter Race. Mack Robinson, the older brother of Jackie Robinson, received a silver medal for coming in second in the 200 Meter Dash and Archie Williams received a gold medal for winning the 400 Meter Race.

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Jamie Stewart America Unraveled's resident expert on all things higher ed!

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