With the Winter Olympics right around the corner, it’s a nice time for a refresher on the best Olympian from each state.
The history of the Olympic Games is rich with upsets, feel-good stories, and dominating performances. Being named an Olympian is one of the highest honors an athlete can receive. Each state has had their share of Olympic athletes and the history to go along with these athletes is quite fascinating. There are a few athletes that may have been born in a different state than the one they are listed under. The only time this happens is when the athlete either claims that state as their home or moved at a young age and found their talent in their new home. This list is a who’s who of American sports figures and some that deserve more spotlight than they have ever gotten.
BERLIN – 1936 : Jesse Owens of the USA in action in the mens 200m at the 1936 Summer Olympic Games held in Berlin, Germany. Owens won a total of four gold medals in the Olympics, winning the mens 100m final, 200m final and the long jump competiton as well as being part of the victorious USA 4x100m relay team. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
Alabama: Jesse Owens
Sport: Track and Field
Olympics: Berlin 1936
The first state on the list presented a difficult choice. Jesse Owens gets the nod here for not only his athletic performance in the Olympics but also how much it turned out to mean for American society in general. Owens became a symbol for people who stood against everything Adolf Hitler and other white supremacists believed in.
Before Owens went to Berlin for the Olympics in 1936, he was famous for his accomplishments at a Big Ten track meet in 1935. Owens set three world records and tied a fourth in the space of an hour. When he went to Berlin the following year, he dominated. He took home to the gold medal in the 100 and 200-meter dash in addition to the long jump and 4×100 meter relay. All this after Hitler claimed no black man could best a white athlete. Reports that Hitler snubbed Owens spread through the United States at a time when the country needed a lift. (It was learned much later that Hitler and Owens did indeed shake hands.)
If this was any other state, Carl Lewis would be a fairly easy choice, but Owens’ impact goes far beyond the Olympics and that’s why he beats out Lewis as Alabama’s best Olympian. Owens accomplishing what he did on German soil was one of the biggest events in American history. The Jesse Owens Track and Field Award is the highest honor any track and field athlete can receive and is handed out annually. ESPN also named him as the sixth greatest North American athlete of the twentieth century.
Honorable Mention: Carl Lewis, track and field in Los Angeles 1984, Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996
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