Wednesday 21 February 2018

Owens' Olympic medal up for auction

One of four Jesse Owens 1936 Olympics gold medals is up for auction. (AP/Raquel Dillon)
One of four Jesse Owens 1936 Olympics gold medals is up for auction. (AP/Raquel Dillon)
Jesse Owens in one of the 200m heats at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. (AP)

One of the four Olympic gold medals won by black athlete Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Games is up for sale in an online auction.

The medal recalls both the Nazi racial propaganda myths that Owens smashed with his world record-setting 100-yard dash, and the American segregation that he came home to when he returned to the US.

Adolf Hitler orchestrated the Games to showcase his ideas of Aryan supremacism.

"Almost singlehandedly, Owens obliterated Hitler's plans," SCP Auctions partner Dan Imler said. "You've got an African American, son of a sharecropper, grandson of slaves who overcame these incredible circumstances and delivered a performance for the ages."

The auction began on November 20 and closes on Saturday. Last night it had received 15 bids, with the highest at nearly 209,000 dollars (£128,200).

"We expect a lot of bidding activity on the final day of the auction, which is typical," Mr Imler said.

Owens won gold in the 100- and 200-meters, the 400 relay and the long jump. But when he returned from Berlin Games, he struggled to provide for his family.

His job options were limited by segregation and because he decided to return home instead of going on tour with the US Olympic team, he was stripped of his amateur athletic status.

"When they came back, the US was just as it was when he left - segregated. Even though he came back an Olympic hero, he wasn't offered opportunities that Olympic heroes of today are offered," said his daughter, Marlene Owens Rankin, 74, of Chicago.

"We lived well, a middle-class life. We didn't want for much. But like many black men of that era, he struggled to provide for his family."

Owens gave one of his four Olympic gold medals to dancer and film star Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, another supremely talented African-American whose career was hemmed in by limited roles for black men. Robinson befriended Owens after the athlete returned from the Olympics.

"They formed a friendship and also a professional relationship. Bojangles helped Owens get work in the entertainment field," Mr Imler said. "Owens gave him this medal out of gratitude and as a token of their friendship."

Owens worked for a short time as a band leader but eventually returned to his home town of Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked for the parks department and eventually found his way into public speaking, his daughter said.

"The black community revered him for what he had accomplished," she said. "Had it been an even playing field, my father and Bojangles would have been superstars."

The medal comes from the estate of Robinson's widow. Mr Imler said they planned to use the proceeds to pay college tuition and contribute to charity.

SCP Auctions said the medal was genuine. The whereabouts of the other three original gold medals are unknown.

"We just hope that it's purchased by an institution where the public could have access to it, a museum or something like that," Ms Owens Rankin said.


Press Association

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