Greatest 45 minutes ever in sports
It still looks like a misprint.
Four world records in three-quarters of an hour. Not 45 weeks or 45 days but 45 minutes.
Seventy-five years ago Tuesday, at the 1935 Big Ten Track and Field Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich.,
In less than an hour, the 21-year-old Ohio State sophomore tied the world record in the 100-yard dash and then set the world record in the long jump, the 220-yard dash and the 220 low hurdles.
One year later at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the black son of an Alabama sharecropper became an athletic legend when he grabbed
Owens' dominant week in Berlin is part of American athletic lore, but his Olympic performances have been duplicated or surpassed.
But Owens' one-day blockbuster in Ann Arbor has no parallel, not only in track and field but in any sport. It is the greatest single day performance in athletic history, superior to
That Owens took care of business in less than an hour -- and with an injured back -- adds even more luster to a name that has always ranked near the top of American sports heroes.
"People are surprised at how competitive Owens would still be as an athlete today," said
Indeed, 75 years later, Owens still holds the Buckeyes' school record in the long jump.
Owens' time in the national spotlight was short -- only about four years. He first drew attention when he tied the 100-yard dash world record of 9.4 seconds as a Cleveland high school senior in 1933. He followed with a record four individual titles at both the 1935 and 1936 NCAA championships (Owens scored 40 of the Buckeyes' 40.2 points at the '35 meet) and then exited track shortly after draping himself in glory in Berlin.
But if Owens' career was abbreviated in years it was long on achievement, and never more so than at Michigan's Ferry Field on May 25, 1935.
At the start of the day, Owens didn't know if he could finish even one event. He had injured his lower back falling down the stairs five days earlier while roughhousing with his fraternity brothers and was still hurting as he warmed up.
After debating with Ohio State track coach
And what a time it was.
"The scary part to me always has been how good Owens was for the very little long jump training he did," said
Ohio State's Gary said photos of the 220 make it appear "like no one else is in the race."
Owens had averaged a world record every 11 minutes. To find a similar scale of achievement one has to journey to the realm of art and think of
Owens, perhaps the smoothest sprinter of all time, was an athletic artist and with each record the Ferry Field crowd of 5,000 cheered louder. So many fans wanted to congratulate Owens after the meet that he had to leave the locker room through a bathroom window.
He was a national story and would join boxer
Honors and financial opportunities were slow to flow Owens' way. For all the talk of being snubbed by Hitler at the '36 Olympics (some reports say the German leader actually offered a small wave to the American champion), Owens always said he was more upset by never having received recognition from President
Only weeks after his historic triumph in Berlin, he was suspended by the Amateur Athletic Union for not competing in a minor track meet in Sweden. Owens preferred to get back to the U.S. to see his family and take advantage of endorsement opportunities that, ultimately, failed to materialize.
White Olympic swimmers like
Finally, in 1955, President
A decades-long cigarette habit eventually caught up with Owens and he died of lung cancer in 1980 at the age of 66.
Owens' records seem almost quaint today. Jamaica's
Bolt, however, doesn't compete in the hurdles or the long jump. Unlike Owens, he doesn't run on dirt tracks or without the benefit of starting blocks.
With prize money and commercial endorsements now permissible in international track and field, Bolt can train year round and doesn't have to work in a gas station as Owens did in college. Bolt can compete as long as his body allows him. Owens last raced when he was 22.
One can speculate what Owens might have accomplished had he competed longer. Carl Lewis recorded his best marks in the 100 meters and long jump when he was 30.
Maybe Owens would have run a 10.1 100 meters, which wasn't accomplished until 1956, or notched the first 27-foot long jump, which didn't happen until 1961.
Yet considering how transcendent Owens was at Ann Arbor and again at Berlin, it would be like asking
The masterpieces speak for themselves.
As Hendershott noted, Owens' day of days in Ann Arbor "is likely never to be equaled, let alone beaten, in any sport."
Ferry Field still stands. Outside the track a plaque commemorates Owens' record-shattering day. It is, perhaps, the ultimate compliment in college sports that a University of Michigan athletic facility continues to honor the achievements of an Ohio State Buckeye.