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Friendship of Luz Long and Jesse Owens from 1936 Berlin Olympic Games
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Owens and Long
The third episode of 'Sportingly +' brings you a story about sportsmanship, friendship, respect, and of course excellence in the history of modern sports.

This is a story from the 1936 Berlin Olympics about Jesse Owens from the United States of America and Luz Long from Germany. Though the story might talk about the success of Jesse Owens in the Olympics but the real hero of this story is Luz Long.

The 1936 Olympics was awarded to Germany before the Nazis came to power, but by the time the Olympics was held, the Nazis were in power. When the Olympics started in August 1936, it provided a perfect opportunity for the Nazis to showcase Adolf Hitler's power and German supremacy to the 49 nations competing for glory.

Germany was the most successful country in Berlin Olympics, earning 101 medals in total, with the United States coming in second with 57 medals.

When Jesse Owens arrived in Berlin for the Summer Games, he was just 22 years old. He was under immense pressure because he had broken world records even before making his first Olympic appearance in Germany. The media covered him extensively in that era. Everybody was waiting to see him perform on the tracks.

On the other hand, the atmosphere in which Owens was competing was also tough and intimidating, to say the least. The 1936 Games was part of Hiltler’s grand plan to prove Aryan superiority, and African-Americans were not high on his priority list.

Owens captured four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4 X 100m relay and long jump events. He became the hero of the Olympics. In the long jump, he leaped 26 feet 5-1/2 inches, an Olympic record. The story of the long jump is not just remembered for Jesse's jump but about his great friendship with Long, who won the silver. 

At the long jump event, Owens was struggling to qualify for the finals despite being the world record holder. He needed to jump a distance of 23 and a half feet to make it to the finals. In his first attempt, Jesse made a practice run onto the pit with his tracksuit, without noticing that the judges had already raised their flags to mark the start of the long jump competition. This got recorded as a failed jump.

Discouraged and nervous, Owens fouled his next attempt too, leaving him with only one final chance to qualify for the final. It was at this crucial juncture Long his arch-rival for the gold medal walked up to the American.

It was a fine display of sportsmanship the world had ever seen happened in front of the Berlin crowd, the German suggested Owens change his mark and take off well before the foul line in order to avoid fouling on the last attempt. Jesse on his final jump leaped into the air a foot before the foul line and jumped a distance of 25 feet on his final try to qualify for the final, alongside Long.

Now just imagine yourself to be Long and your rival for the gold medal is struggling to qualify. Isn't that a good thing for you? Isn't that a blessing? The person might not get into the finals and you have every chance of being an Olympic champion. What do you do? You go and tell him a strategy that takes him to the final. This is epic for sportsmanship and fair play. Very few people can actually do this on the pitch or outside in real life. 

Owens jumped 25.82 feet in the first jump in the finals creating a new Olympic record. Long equaled the feat (25.82 feet) in his fifth jump. Owens, on his fifth, jump broke the Olympic record again by jumping 26.05 feet and finally created another Olympic record in the final jump by covering a distance of 26.44 feet. As expected, Owens bagged the gold and Long won the silver. Long was the first person to congratulate Owens.

Film director Leni Riefenstahl was given the assignment to capture the German's superlative performances in the Olympics. Ironically, Riefenstahl captured the most iconic image of Owens and Long walking arm-in-arm after Owen's long jump victory in front of Hitler. 

It takes a huge heart and a lot of courage to do that, especially considering the time of history when the incident happened. 

The friendship of Owens, the black American athlete and four-time Olympic champion, and Germany’s Long gives a powerful message for humanity from the realm of sport that the Olympics or sports is a symbol of unity, peace, and camaraderie. Owens and Long were supposed to be rivals but their friendship remains a lesson for generations to follow.

The world today needs more such stories as we live in an increasingly divisive world, where we hate because of one's colour, where we fight in the name of your God and my God. We need to look back on the Olympics and the world of sport to find our redemption.

We need stories that defy hatred, and racism and inspire generations to embrace the Olympic values, the humane values in life and realise that we all humans first, we all carry the same emotions

If you happen to have a sports story or know about a story that can highlight the values and positivity of sports please send it to [email protected].

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