One almost never hears about Owens without being told that his victories single-handedly crushed Hitler's myth of Aryan supremacy and that Hitler, upon seeing Owens' triumphs, stormed out of the stadium, refusing to shake his hand.
The story of Hitler storming off after Owen's victories is fiction. According to Wikipedia:
On the first day of competition, Hitler shook hands with only the German victors and then left the stadium. Olympic committee officials insisted Hitler greet every medalist or none at all. Hitler opted for the latter and skipped all further medal presentations. Historians have noted that Hitler may have left the games at this time due to looming rain clouds that might have postponed the games. This happened well before Owens was to compete, but has largely come to be believed to be the "snub." On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories, and had refused to shake his hand, Owens said at the time:
"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. 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."
Contrast Owens' reception in Germany to the one he got in the US. Again, from Wikipedia:
In a 2009 interview, Siegfried Mischner, a German journalist, claimed that Owens carried around a photograph in his wallet of the Fuhrer shaking his hand before the latter left the stadium. Owens, who felt the newspapers of the day reported 'unfairly' on Hitler's attitude towards him, tried to get Mischner and his journalist colleagues to change the accepted version of history in the 1960s. Mischner claimed Owens showed him the photograph and told him: "That was one of my most beautiful moments." Mischner added "(the picture) was taken behind the honour stand and so not captured by the world's press. But I saw it, I saw him shaking Hitler's hand!" According to Mischner, "the predominating opinion in post-war Germany was that Hitler had ignored Owens, so we therefore decided not to report on the photo. The consensus was that Hitler had to continue to be painted in a bad light in relation to Owens." For some time, Mischner's assertion was not confirmed independently of his own account, and Mischner himself admitted in Mail Online that "All my colleagues are dead, Owens is dead. I thought this was the last chance to set the record straight. I have no idea where the photo is or even if it exists still."
However, in 2014, Eric Brown, British fighter pilot and test pilot, the Fleet Air Arm's most decorated living pilot, independently stated in a BBC documentary "I actually witnessed Hitler shaking hands with Jesse Owens and congratulating him on what he had achieved." Additionally, an article in The Baltimore Sun in August 1936 reported that Hitler sent Owens a commemorative inscribed cabinet photograph of himself.
Owens was allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels in Germany as whites, while at the time African Americans in many parts of the United States had to stay in segregated hotels while traveling…. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) never invited Jesse Owens to the White House following his triumphs at the Olympics Games...
Speaking at a Republican rally held in Baltimore on October 9, 1936, Owens 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." Later, on October 15, 1936 Owens repeated this allegation when he addressed an audience of African Americans at a Republican rally in Kansas City remarking that "Hitler didn't snub me – it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram."
Hitler hasn't exactly gone down as the most sporting guy in history. And he may have been annoyed by Owens' triumphs. But, he at least gave Jesse Owens a friendlier reception than FDR did.
The other implication of the way the Owens story is always told is that he somehow single-handedly disproved all theories about racial differences. And….how exactly did Owens do that? By running fast?
There is no race realist in existence who feels that blacks can't run as fast as whites. In fact, a race realist, by definition, is someone who looks at results -- which represent reality -- and draws conclusions from them, rather than from pre-approved propaganda. Anybody with an open mind would come to the conclusion that blacks are far more talented at sprinting. It's hard to argue with the fact that 8 out of 8 finalists in the 100 meter dash at the past 8 Olympiads have been of West African descent.
I've always had the vague sense that there was some physical culture and pride of health involved in Hitler's views on Aryan supremacy. But I also suspect he didn't base his theories primarily on Germans being the fastest sprinters. From Wiki:
Albert Speer wrote that Hitler "was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games."
Advocating sports segregation certainly doesn't sound fair; but acknowledging that blacks are physically stronger hardly makes it sound as if Hitler's theories on race were based on the ability of white sprinters to outrace blacks.
To imply that Owens dispelled any and all theories about racial differences by outrunning and out jumping whites is as silly as saying that Carl Lewis dispelled the myth of whites being responsible for most of the seminal scientific inventions by winning four golds in 1984.
Or that Usain Bolt destroyed the pernicious stereotype that blacks don't do as well on the SAT's by winning three golds in both 2008 and 2012.
Jesse Owens was an incredible athlete. And his most incredible feat came not in 1936, but in 1935, when, competing for Ohio State, he set four world records in the space of 45 minutes. (He set records in the 100 and 220 yard dashes, the 220 yard hurdles, and the long jump.) No one else has done anything like that since.
But the only conclusion about race that leads to is that blacks are better at running and jumping.
(By the way, the more you look into this, the more apparent it is that Owens is blameless in all of this. He had absolutely nothing to do with the mythologizing and propagandizing that sprung up around his athletic accomplishments.)