Unseen Passage: Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens was a track and field star. His most famous moment came in the 1936 Olympics when he won four gold medals — much to the annoyance of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party who hoped the Olympics would be a showcase for Aryan supremacy. In his later life, Jesse Owens became a goodwill ambassador for America and athletics.

Jesse Owens was born in Alabama and, aged 9, the family moved to the Granville section of Cleveland. His early life was marked by poverty, and he was forced
to take many menial jobs such as delivering goods and working in a shoe repair shops. However, he was able to develop his passion for running and athletics; from an early age, he was identified as having greatpotential talent. In later life, he gave much credit to Charles Riley, his high school coach who encouraged him and made allowances for his difficulty in making evening training sessions because Jesse had to work in a shoe repair shop.

Jesse Owens rose to national prominence in 1933, when he equalled the world record (9.4 seconds) for the 100 yard dash. He attended Ohio State University but, without a scholarship, he had to continue working part time. In the 1930s, America was a highly segregated society, and when travelling with the team, Jesse had to suffer the indignities of eating at separate restaurants and staying in different hotels.

One of his great athletic feat occurred in 1935; during one particular track meet, he broke three world records. This included the long jump (Owen’s record stood for 25 years), 220 yards and 220 yards hurdles. He also equalled the record for 100 yards. Jesse Owen’s finest moment came in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He won Olympic gold in the 100m, long jump, 200m and 4*100 metres relay. (An achievement not matched until Carl Lewis in 1984). It was a convincing rebuttal to the Nazi’s hopes of displaying ‘Aryan superiority’. Hitler gave medals to German athletes on the first day, but, after Owen’s victories, decided not to give any more medals. Albert Speer later wrote that Hitler was annoyed that the negro, Jesse Owens had won so many gold medals.

With great irony, Jesse Owens was treated well during his stay in Germany; he didn’t experience the segregation that he did back home in the United States and many Germans sought his autograph.

Q. On the basis of your reading and understanding of the above passage, answer the following:

  1. When was Jesse Owens passion for athletics identified? How did Charles Riley help Owens?
  2. How did the American society treat Owens?
  3. How did Hitler express his annoyance against Owen’s victories?
  4. Why did America choose Owens as its goodwill ambassador ?
  5. In a ‘highly segregated society’
    1. all are treated equally.
    2. people are categorised on the basis of caste and race.
    3. all are from the same cultural and racial background.
    4. people don’t face humiliation because of their caste and race.
  6. The word ‘menial’ in para 2 can be replaced with the word
    1. lowly
    2. unskilled
    3. routine
    4. boring
  7. Give the antonym for the word ‘rebuttal’ in para 4.
  8. Give a word which can replace the word ‘Feat’ in para 4.


  1. Jesse Owens passion for athletics was identified in an early age. Charles Riley helped Owens by allowing him training sessions in the evening as he had to work in the shoe repair shop in the morning.
  2. The American society exercised racialdiscrimination against Owens. He suffered the indignities of eating at separate restaurants and staying in different hotels when he was travelling with the team.
  3. Hitler expressed his annoyance against Owen’s victories by deciding not to give any more medals after Owen’s victories.
  4. America chose Owens as its goodwill ambassador because he was an embodiment of peace, equality and excellence.
  5. people are categorised on the basis of caste and race.
  6. lowly
  7. acceptance
  8. achievement

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