Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Named Big Ten Icon #3

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It is no exaggeration to say the four-gold-medal performance by Ohio State’s Jesse Owens in front of Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games was a landmark event in the history of Ohio State, the Big Ten Conference, the United States, the Olympic Games and of the 20th century.

Once known as “The Buckeye Bullet,” and eventually the world’s greatest athlete of his era, Owens has been named the No. 3 Big Ten Icon by the Big Ten Network. Presented by Discover and hosted by Keith Jackson, Big Ten Icons continues at 9 PM ET on Sunday.

The episode includes new one-on-one interviews with Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Gene Smith and Owens’ daughters, Marlene and Gloria.

In an essay for the Big Ten Network, former Chicago Tribune sports editor Dan McGrath writes,

“Thousands of athletes have distinguished themselves and earned acclaim for their schools in the storied 114-year history of the Big Ten Conference, but no individual’s accomplishments cast a larger shadow than those of Jesse Owens. In 1936, three years before the world went back to war, his fleet feet and indomitable spirit stood in stark contrast to Adolph Hitler’s plans for worldwide Nazi domination.

“The 1936 Olympics would take place in Berlin, and Hitler intended to use them to promote the Nazi movement and his theory of an Aryan ‘master race.’ But Jesse Owens proved to be a gloriously stubborn obstacle to those plans. He won four gold medals in a storybook performance that established the humble sharecropper’s son as the world’s greatest athlete beyond question.”

Owens won gold in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, the long jump and the 4×100-meter relay.

Even at an early age, Owens stood out on the track. While attending Cleveland’s East Technical High School, Owens broke the world record in the long jump at 24 feet, 9 inches and tied the world record in the 100-yard dash with a time of 9.4 seconds. As McGrath writes, the notoriety followed Owens to Ohio State:

“He became a national star as the ‘Buckeye Bullet.’ If Red Grange’s four touchdowns in 12 minutes in the 1924 Illinois-Michigan game were a seminal moment for college football, Owens provided a comparably historic one for track and field when he set three world records and tied a fourth within 45 minutes at the Big Ten meet in Ann Arbor in 1935… Seventy-five years after it took place, Owens’ single-day performance is still regarded as the greatest individual accomplishment in track and field history.”

During his junior year at Ohio State, Owens competed in 42 events and won them all, setting the stage for the memorable triumphs that would cement his legacy.

The No. 1 Big Ten Icon will be revealed in March 2011 in conjunction with the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament. Big Ten Icons is the network’s most ambitious multi-platform initiative to date. The program is counting down the top 50 student-athletes in Big Ten history, based solely on their collegiate playing careers

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