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36 days to Rio: Jesse Owens defies Nazi Germany in Berlin

Jesse Owens was the star of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin with four gold medals. (Public domain image)
30th June, 2016
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With 36 days to go until the Rio opening ceremony, today we look back at the 1936 Games, an Olympic year blighted by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi propaganda about Aryan superiority but defined by the defiance and brilliance of Jesse Owens.

It cannot have been easy for an African-American man like Owens to compete in the midst of all the degrading Nazi rhetoric in Berlin.

» VIEW THE OLYMPIC MEDAL TALLY HERE

Not that it affected the star athlete much on the track. Owens won the 100m sprint, set a new Olympic record on his way to the gold medal for the 200m, and was a part of the American 4x100m relay team that won gold and set a world record which wouldn’t be broken for 20 years.

But the most fascinating of Owens’ victories came in the long jump. Despite entering the competition as the world record-holder, Owens fouled both of his opening two jumps. After dragging himself up after the second, he was approached by his main rival for the gold, German Luz Long.

Long advised Owens to take his run up back a couple of inches, which allowed him to comfortably qualify for the final.

The two spent much of the evening talking, forming a firm friendship which wasn’t lost in the heat of competition the following day. Even though Owens was back to his top form, Long managed to equal the American’s best leap, sending the Berlin crowd into raptures.

Owens bounced back (forgive the pun) with an Olympic record to seal the gold medal, and it was Long who was the first who to rushed congratulate him.

Writing for Reader’s Digest, Owens recalled the moment and his friendship with Long, which lasted until the latter was killed during World War II.

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“Despite the fact that Hitler glared at us from the stands not a hundred yards away, Luz shook my hand hard – and it wasn’t a fake ‘smile with a broken heart’ sort of grip, either.

You can melt down all the gold medals and cups I have, and they couldn’t be a plating on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment.”

Be sure to follow The Roar as we look back on some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history – be they weird and wacky or brilliant and significant – and count down the days until the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.

The Roar’s countdown to the Rio Olympics

50 days to go: Australia’s first Olympian, Edwin Flack
49 days to go: Brazil capitulate at the 2012 Olympics
48 days to go: Blood in the water during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
47 days to go: Daniel Carroll, the man who won rugby gold with Australia and America
46 days to go: Margaret Abbott – the golfer who didn’t know she had won gold
45 days to go: Where did all the amateurs go?
44 days to go: Australia’s oarsome foursome
43 days to go: When Korea stood as one
42 Days to go: Oscar Swahn, the oldest Olympian
41 days to go: Edith Bosch – the Olympian not known for her medals
40 days to go: Jane Saville’s heartbreaking Sydney Olympics
39 days to go: Herb Elliot dominates in Rome 1960
38 days to go: Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer who might have beaten Ali
37 days to go: Betty Cuthbert steals the show in Melbourne
36 days to go: Jesse Owens’ heroic performance in Berlin
35 days to go: Eric the Eel steals Sydney’s heart
34 days to go: What happened to Cassius Clay’s gold medal?
33 days to go: Australia’s equestrian brilliance at Barcelona
32 days to go: The Olympic sports which are no longer with us
31 days to go: Debbie Flintoff-King wins on the line
30 days to go: The dominance of basketball’s Dream Team
29 days to go: Nadia Comenaci scores gymnastics’ first-ever perfect score
28 days to go: The man who stopped for a duck
27 days to go: The upset of the Sydney Olympics
26 days to go: Murray Rose’s scintilating Melbourne performance
25 days to go: Greg Louganis’ heroic comeback win
24 days to go: Fencing turns to duelling in Paris
23 days to go: Dawn Fraser’s flag-stealing shenanigans
22 days to go: The most prolific Olympic competitor
21 days to go: Duncan Armstrong’s underdog win in Seoul
20 days to go: Johnny Weissmuller: A brilliant swimmer and Hollywood actor
19 days to go: Majorie Jackson – the Lithgow Flash
18 days to go: Larisa Latynina, the most successful female Olympian
17 days to go: Dimitrios Loundras, the child who won an Olympic medal
16 days to go: Roy Jones Jr is robbed of an Olympic gold
15 days to go: Shane Gould’s superstar performance in Munich
14 days to go: The Kookaburras finally fly to the top of the world
13 days to go: Matthew Mitcham’s historic dive
12 days to go: Even Olympians are prone to the odd fail
11 days to go: Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon running in bare feet
10 days to go: Track cycling’s greatest rivalry
9 days to go: Kieran Perkins’ gold medal from lane eight
8 days to go: Sally Pearson’s awesome run in London
7 days to go: Mark Spitz’ perfect seven gold medals in ’72
6 days to go: Usain Bolt torches the field in Beijing
5 days to go: Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe help smash America’s 4x100m world record like a guitar
4 days to go: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant black power salute
3 days to go: Michael Phelps – the best to ever grace the Olympics
2 days to go: Cathy Freeman delivers with the weight of a country on her back
1 day to go: Ian Thorpe – Australia’s finest Olympian