Olympic Hero Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens soars through the air with the greatest of ease for a distance of 26 feet 5-221/64 inches, bettering the Olympic mark, and winning the event at the games in Berlin. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

Born James Cleveland Owens in Oakville, Alabama on September 12, 1913, Jesse Owens was the youngest of 10 children, and as the son of a sharecropper, money was always tight. Food and clothes were not a guarantee, and medical care was too much to afford. In fact, Owens later told reporters that his mother had to use a kitchen knife to cut a tumor out of his chest as a child. Owens began working afternoons while he was still in middle school but was lucky enough to have a track and field coach who allowed him to train in the mornings, as running was his true passion. During the Ohio Interscholastic Finals, he won 75 out of 79 events and later tied the world record for the 100-yard dash.

Because of his excellence as an athlete, he made his way onto the track and field team at Ohio State University, and though he won no fewer than eight individual N.C.A.A. championships there, he was never awarded a scholarship. On May 25, 1935, Owens made his first real mark on the sport during a Big Ten Conference, where he set four (yes, four) world records within a 45-minute span. It was clear to everybody that Owens was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of athlete.