Owens attended The Ohio State University only after employment was found for his father, ensuring the family could be supported. Affectionately known as the "Buckeye Bullet," Owens won a record eight individual NCAA championships, four each in 1935 and 1936. (The record of four gold medals at the NCAA has been equaled only by Xavier Carter in 2006, although his many titles also included relay medals.) Though Owens was enjoying athletic success, he had to live off campus with other African-American athletes. When he traveled with the team, Owens could either order carry-out or eat at "black-only" restaurants. Likewise, he slept in "black-only" hotels. Owens was never awarded a scholarship for his efforts, so he continued to work part-time jobs to pay for school.
Owens's greatest achievement came in a span of 45 minutes on May 25, 1935 at the Big Ten meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he set three world records and tied a fourth. He equaled the world record for the 100-yard (91 m) sprint (9.4 seconds) and set world records in the long jump (26 feet 8¼ inches (8.13 m), a world record that would last 25 years), 220-yard (201.2 m) sprint (20.7 seconds), and 220-yard (201.2m) low hurdles (22.6 seconds to become the first person to break 23 seconds). In 2005, both NBC sports announcer Bob Costas and University of Central Florida professor of sports history Richard C. Crepeau chose this as the most impressive athletic achievement since 1850.
Owens was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter organization established for African Americans