Above: Luz Long and Jesse Owens
To win four gold medals at a single Olympic Games is astonishing enough; however, to do so as a black person in 1936, at a tense Olympic Games hosted by Adolf Hitler, is almost beyond belief. Yet Jesse Owens did exactly that, somehow managing to ignore talk of Aryan superiority to take gold in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, and long jump, all in the space of a few days. He also made a good friend in the form of German athlete Luz Long, the blond-haired, blue-eyed, long jump rival who swapped training tips with Owens and openly congratulated him after his final jump, in full view of Hitler.
Having bonded so well at the Games, Owens and Long kept in touch by mail. Below is Long's last letter, written during WWII from North Africa where he was stationed with the German Army and later killed in action. It reached Owens a year after it was sent. Years later, as per Long's request, Owens met and became firm friends with his son, Karl. He also went on to serve as best man at his wedding.
(Source: Jesse: The Man Who Outran Hitler. Photo via EAL09)
I am here, Jesse, where it seems there is only the dry sand and the wet blood. I do not fear so much for myself, my friend Jesse, I fear for my woman who is home, and my young son Karl, who has never really known his father.
My heart tells me, if I be honest with you, that this is the last letter I shall ever write. If it is so, I ask you something. It is a something so very important to me. It is you go to Germany when this war done, someday find my Karl, and tell him about his father. Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we not separated by war. I am saying—tell him how things can be between men on this earth.
If you do this something for me, this thing that I need the most to know will be done, I do something for you, now. I tell you something I know you want to hear. And it is true.
That hour in Berlin when I first spoke to you, when you had your knee upon the ground, I knew that you were in prayer.
Then I not know how I know. Now I do. I know it is never by chance that we come together. I come to you that hour in 1936 for purpose more than der Berliner Olympiade.
And you, I believe, will read this letter, while it should not be possible to reach you ever, for purpose more even than our friendship.
I believe this shall come about because I think now that God will make it come about. This is what I have to tell you, Jesse.
I think I might believe in God.
And I pray to him that, even while it should not be possible for this to reach you ever, these words I write will still be read by you.