It was this versatility which on May 25, 1935 electrified the sports world as it hadn't been in decades. The setting: the Western Conference Outdoor Track and Field meet at Ann Arbor, Mich., and the expectation that the Ohio State sophomore sensation would give them something to remember had brought out the largest crowd yet to see a Big Ten meet - more than 10,000 people, packed into Michigan's ancient Ferry Field wooden stands.
For three weeks Jesse had had an aching back which hadn't responded too well to treatment. Therefore, it must have been pure adrenalin which, in the space of 45 minutes, took his mind off his ache and enabled him to put on the greatest one-man, one-day performance the sport had ever known. Jesse broke three world records and tied a fourth.
The time-table went like this:
At 3:15 he flashed down the track to win the 100-yard dash in 9.4 seconds, tying the world mark.
At 3:25 Jesse removed his sweat suit, bent over at the top of the broad jump runway and hurtled forward toward the take-off board. In his first and what was to be his only jump of the day he rocketed out 26 feet 8 ¼ inches, breaking the world record by more than half a foot.
At 3:34, just nine minutes later, Owens again slipped out of his sweats, this time for the 220-yard dash. He took his mark, went to the set position, was off with the gun and streaked home almost 15 yards ahead of the second man in 20.3 seconds, slashing three-tenths of a second from the world mark.
At exactly 4:00 p.m., 16 minutes later, he again took off his sweats and eyed the long row of barriers placed in position for the 220-yard low hurdles. Again the gun, and again there was Owens ripping away from the field, flying over the timbers to the tape. The time: 22.6 seconds, four-tenths of a second shaved from the world record.
The 5-10, 165-pound paragon of poetry in motion was to add verse upon verse to his accomplishments. A few weeks after the Conference meet, he scored an unprecedented sweep of the same four events in the National Collegiates. He swept the same four at the Conference meet the following May, 1936. Then he repeated his NCAA triumphs in June, 1936. Eight Big Ten outdoor crowns; eight NCAA crowns. The figures stand alone in track history. He never got the chance to add the senior year championships which surely would have made his figures as permanent as those at Mt. Rushmore. The 1936 Olympic Games altered his whole life.
From the moment the American contingent arrived in Berlin the so-called Buckeye Bullet was the man most marked for distinction. The 110,000 who jammed Adolf Hitler's new stadium, and fans at home throughout the world, wondered whether Owens would be vulnerable to the pressure of international competition and show a crack in his invincibility.
At no Olympiad, past or future, would an athlete be subjected to such searching scrutiny. Correspondents converged in platoons around Owens in the Olympic Village where the athletes were quartered, prying into his minute-by-minute activities in Berlin. Some European papers and magazines even sent female writers in an attempt to whip up a special perspective. Finally, the American coaching staff had to blow the whistle on the intensive coverage. There was just too much danger that Jesse would be badgered into a state of nerves. They needn't have bothered. Larry Snyder, Owen's coach and assistant coach of the Olympic team, could have pointed to Jesse's amazing ability to hang loose. Relaxation, in fact, was the key to his performing style. He didn't know what it was to be tense either before or during competition and his flawless style reflected it.