Berlin, 1936, the Olympic Games. The great American track and field athlete, Jesse Owens, wins the gold medal in the 100 meter, the 200 meter, the 4×100 meter dash, as well as in the long jump.
What many people don’t know, however, is that the silver medalist in the long jump, the German Carl Ludwig “Lutz” Long, had given Owens the kind of advice that only a true colleague, and friend, would give.
Going into the 1936 games Long had been the reigning German champion and holder of the European record. The Nazi hierarchy – and the German people – had anticipated gold for Germany.
In the qualification round Owens had fouled twice in a row by stepping on the white board delineating the jump-off point. A third foul would have disqualified him. Jesse Owens would have failed to advance to the final round. The crowd, the millions listening by radio, and especially Owens himself, were unsettled.
After that second fault, Lutz Long walked over to his competitor and advised him to simply imagine the foul line to be located one foot closer than it actually was, saying that he just had to avoid fouling a third time, and that his third jump would easily be enough to advance to the next round.
Some sources claim that Long went so far as to lay down his white towel marketing where Owens should leap from, ensuring that he would not foul a third time.
Jesse Owens took the advice given to him by that German, advancing to the final round, and then setting a record which would hold for decades. Lutz Long took the silver.
Immediately after the medal ceremony, when Owens and Long stepped off the podium – and in full view of Adolf Hitler and many of the highest ranking National Socialist officials – Lutz Long, the German, smiled, shook hands with Owens, then hooked Jesse’s right arm into his left and proceeded to walk with him around the track, smiling, talking, congratulating.
1936. Tensions in Europe were very high. The German regime was espousing a crude racial theory. And in the United States, an African-American like Jesse Owens was treated as a second-class citizen, at best. With the world watching, and in conscious defiance of his own government, Lutz Long, a German, reached out to his archrival to give a small bit of helpful advice. Unsolicited.
Postscript: After the 1936 Olympic Games Jesse Owens was celebrated triumphantly in the U.S., only then to be forgotten for two decades, and to struggle financially, until the 1950s brought him a presidential appointment as American Ambassador of Goodwill by Dwight Eisenhower, and with it lucrative celebrity endorsements as well as a long, healthy, happy life.
Lutz Long, his German friend, died in battle against the Western Allies in Italy at the age of thirty. Fast forward the video above to 1:38 mins:
“You could melt down all of the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating for the twenty-four carat friendship I felt for Lutz Long at that moment.” Jesse Owens