utterances

By Jesse Owens

“We used to have a lot of fun. We never had any problems. We always ate. The fact that we didn’t have steak? Who had steak?” *

“She (Minnie Ruth Solomon) was unusual because even though I knew her family was as poor as ours, nothing she said or did seemed touched by that. Or by prejudice. Or by anything the world said or did. It was as if she had something inside her that somehow made all that not count. I fell in love with her some the first time we ever talked, and a little bit more every time after that until I thought I could’t love her more than I did. And when I felt that way, I asked her to marry me . . . and she said she would.” *

“I’d noticed him watching me for a year or so, especially when we’d play games where there was running or jumping.” *
on junior high track coach Charles Riley

“Every morning, just like in Alabama, I got up with the sun, ate my breakfast even before my mother and sisters and brothers, and went to school, winter, spring, and fall alike to run and jump and bend my body this way and that for Mr. Charles Riley.” *

“He was constantly on me about the job that I was to do and the responsibility that I had upon the campus. And how I must be able to carry myself because people were looking.” *
on Ohio State University track coach Larry Snyder

“It all goes so fast, and character makes the difference when it’s close.” *

“I wanted no part of politics. And I wasn’t in Berlin to compete against any one athlete. The purpose of the Olympics, anyway, was to do your best. As I’d learned long ago from Charles Riley, the only victory that counts is the one over yourself.” *

“To a sprinter, the hundred-yard dash is over in three seconds, not nine or ten. The first ‘second’ is when you come out of the blocks. The next is when you look up and take your first few strides to attain gain position. By that time the race is actually about half over. The final ‘second’ — the longest slice of time in the world for an athlete — is that last half of the race, when you really bear down and see what you’re made of. It seems to take an eternity, yet is all over before you can think what’s happening.” *

“I fought, I fought harder . . . but one cell at a time, panic crept into my body, taking me over.”*
on almost not qualifying for the Olympic finals in long jump

“I decided I wasn’t going to come down. I was going to fly. I was going to stay up in the air forever.”*
on his final leap in long-jump competition, a record-breaking 26 feet, 5 and 5/16″

“It dawned on me with blinding brightness. I realized: I had jumped into another rare kind of stratosphere — one that only a handful of people in every generation are lucky enough to know.” *
on his Olympic achievements

“After I came home from the 1936 Olympics with my four medals, it became increasingly apparent that everyone was going to slap me on the back, want to shake my hand or have me up to their suite. But no one was going to offer me a job.” *

“It was bad enough to have toppled from the Olympic heights to make my living competing with animals. But the competition wasn’t even fair. No man could beat a race horse, not even for 100 yards.”*
on his race with thoroughbred Julio McCaw at halftime of a soccer game

“The secret is, first, get a thoroughbred horse because they are the most nervous animals on earth. Then get the biggest gun you can find and make sure the starter fires that big gun right by the nervous thoroughbred’s ear.”*
on how to beat a racehorse

“Well, I couldn’t play an instrument. I’d just stand up front and announce the numbers. They had me sing a little, but that was a horrible mistake. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. We played black theaters and nightclubs all over hell. One-nighters. Apollo Theater in Harlem and the Earle Theater in Philly — That was big time for blacks.”*
on being the bandleader for a 12-piece black touring band.

“We’d get into these little towns and tell ‘em to get out the fastest guy in town and Jesse Owens’d spot him ten yards and beat him.”*
on participating in baseball games as the grand finale

“People who worked with me or knew me still called me the ‘world’s fastest human’ because I almost never stopped. I’d found that I could get more done with no regular job or regular hours at all, but by being on my own, flying to speak here, help with a public relations campaign for some client there, tape my regular jazz radio show one morning at 5:00 a.m. before leaving on a plane for another city or another continent three hours later to preside over a major sporting event.”*
on his offers for work 14 years after his Olympic victories

“It’s like having a pet dog for a long time. You get attached to it, and when it dies you miss it.”*
on his world records being beaten

“The black fist is a meaningless symbol. When you open it, you have nothing but fingers — weak, empty fingers. The only time the black fist has significance is when there’s money inside. There’s where the power lies.”*
said to Tommie Smith and John Carlos, American sprinters who had given the black power salute while receiving their Olympic medals

“I realized now that militancy in the best sense of the word was the only answer where the black man was concerned, that any black man who wasn’t a militant in 1970 was either blind or a coward.”
from his 1972 book I Have Changed*

“In the space of less than seven days, I attended a track meet in Boston, flew from there to Bowling Green for the National Jaycees, then to Rochester for the blind, Buffalo for another track meet, New York to shoot a film called The Black Athlete, Miami for Ford Motor Company, back up to New York for 45 minutes to deliver a speech, then into L.A. for another the same night.”*