Jesse Owens and Adolf Hitler

Jesse Owens was a four-time gold medal winner in the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin.

It is often said that Owens was snubbed by Adolf Hitler.  This is not entirely accurate.

On the first day of the Games, Hitler only congratulated German athletes.  The Olympic officials insisted that he congratulate all medal winners or none at all.  Hitler opted for the latter and did not attend any further medal ceremonies, which included Owens’ which began after the first day.

Jesse Owens said later

Hitler had a certain time to come to the stadium and a certain time to leave. It happened he had to leave before the victory ceremony after the 100 meters [race began at 5:45pm]. But before he left I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me and I waved back. I think it was bad taste to criticize the ‘man of the hour’ in another country

A newspaper reporter, Robert L Vann, wrote:

And then . . . wonder of wonders . . . [sic] I saw Herr Adolph Hitler, salute this lad. I looked on with a heart which beat proudly as the lad who was crowned king of the 100 meters event, get an ovation the like of which I have never heard before. I saw Jesse Owens greeted by the Grand Chancellor of this country as a brilliant sun peeped out through the clouds. I saw a vast crowd of some 85,000 or 90,000 people stand up and cheer him to the echo.

Sommerolympiade, Siegerehrung Weitsprung
Jesse Owens on the podium after winning the long jump at the 1936 Summer Olympics. L-R, Naoto Tajima, Owens, Lutz Long.

Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-G00630 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (], via Wikimedia Commons

On his return to the US, Owens was forced to use the freight elevator of the Waldorf Astoria New York Hotel rather the front doors to attend a reception in his honour.  The President, Franklyn D Roosevelt, did not invite him to the Whitehouse or send any message of congratulations.

Owens later said:

“Some people say Hitler snubbed me. But I tell you, Hitler did not snub me. I am not knocking the President. Remember, I am not a politician, but remember that the President did not send me a message of congratulations because, people said, he was too busy.”

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