This New York Times–bestselling author’s account of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin offers a “vivid portrait not just of Owens but of ’30s Germany and America” (Sports Illustrated).
At the 1936 Olympics, against a backdrop of swastikas and goose-stepping storm troopers, an African American son of sharecroppers won a staggering four gold medals, single-handedly falsifying Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy.
The story of Jesse Owens at the Berlin games is that of an athletic performance that transcends sports. It is also the intimate and complex tale of one remarkable man’s courage. Drawing on unprecedented access to the Owens family, previously unpublished interviews, and archival research, Jeremy Schaap transports us to Germany and tells the dramatic tale of Owens and his fellow athletes at the contest dubbed the Nazi Olympics.
With incisive reporting and rich storytelling, Schaap reveals what really happened over those tense, exhilarating weeks in a “snappy and dramatic” work of sports history (Publishers Weekly).
“A remarkable job of tackling a complex subject and bringing it to life.” —John Feinstein
“Add[s] even more luster to the indelibly heroic achievements of Jesse Owens.” —Ken Burns
Written as though the film treatment were already completed, Schaap's chronicle of Jesse Owens's journey to and glorious triumph at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is snappy and dramatic, with an eye for the rousing climax, through curiously slight on follow-through. Starting with Owens as the well-feted ex-athlete in the 1950s, Schaap (an ESPN anchor and author of Cinderella Man) flashes back to Owens's childhood in 1920s Cleveland, where junior high coach Charles Riley spotted his astounding physique and near limitless potential for track and field. Owens seems so perfectly made for running and jumping that the following years of ever-increasing athletic and popular success are less exciting than preordained. By the time the "Ebony Antelope" (as one of many adoring newspapermen had anointed him) was ready for Berlin, his success was practically guaranteed. The real drama of Schaap's book, which surprisingly skimps on Owens the person, comes in the politically fractious runup to Berlin (for the ceremony-obsessed Hitler, "a fascist fantasy come true"). While the story has been told many times, Schaap makes good use of his prodigious research and access to the Owens family, even digging up the fact that Owens's oft-repeated claim he was snubbed by Hitler and the Berlin crowd was very likely untrue.