Jesse Owen & Luz Long (1)
Jesse Owen (right) & Luz Long.

As the Indian contingent arrived in Tokyo to participate in the world’s mega event, there is an expectation that the contingent will bring at least double-digit medals in this edition of the Olympics.

The Tokyo Olympics 2020 was supposed to be organised during 2020. However, it had to be postponed due to the Covid19 pandemic.

All is though not well with the Olympics as the events will have no spectators and many top athletes have withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics 2020.

Organising global tournaments in these difficult times is always going to be tricky. In fact, global tournaments can quickly turn around from being a success to controversy.

The EURO Cup final, held recently, was a fine example of things going wrong at the last moment.

England was playing well and it was all good till the announcement of the penalty shootout. But all hell broke loose when three English players missed their penalty in the final and later they were subjected to racism and abuse.

Racism or for that matter discrimination is not a sudden manifestation of an emotional outburst.

It is deeply rooted within us and whenever our teams lose or particular member or members of the team falter on the big stage, sometimes, the outburst is witnessed in the form of racism, which is the extreme form of humiliation.

As we live in an increasingly divisive world, where hatred, racism and marginalization are on the rise, we need to look back on the Olympics and find our redemption. We need stories that defy hatred, racism and inspire generations to embrace humane values.

The story or rather the friendship of Jesse Owens, the black American athlete and four-time Olympic champion and Germany’s Luz Long gives a powerful message for humanity from the realm of sport.

Olympic is a symbol of unity, peace and camaraderie.

But a certain Hitler through the Berlin Olympic 1936 (also known as Nazi Olympic) wanted to send across a message that the “Aryan Race” is supreme over other races.

Despite the hostile environment, Jesse Owens won the 100m and on August 4, 1936, he contested in the long jump event.

However, during qualification, Owens was disqualified twice. This left him with only one remaining jump to ensure that he reached the final later in the day.

At this crucial juncture, he met Luz Long, the German long jumper – 1.84 m tall, blue-eyed and blond – and of course the epitome of ‘German Aryan’ race.

Long went to him and told him to try to jump from a spot several inches behind the take-off board.

Since Owens routinely made distances far greater than the minimum of 7.15 m required to advance, Long proposed that Owens would be able to advance safely to the next round without risking a foul trying to push for a greater distance.

On his third qualifying jump, Owens was calm and jumped with at least four inches to spare, easily qualifying for the finals.

Later that afternoon, Owens won the gold medal while Long stood in second place and was the first to congratulate Owens.

They posed together for photos and walked arm-in-arm in front of Adolf Hitler.

Film director Leni Riefenstahl was given the assignment to capture German superlative performances in the Olympic.

Ironically, Riefenstahl captured the most iconic image that of Ownes and Long walking arm-in-arm not to mention Owens’ long jump victory.

They remained friends till Long’s passing away during World War II.

Hitler with his propaganda tactics tried to succeed in 1936 but failed.

However, even after more than eight decades later, we are fighting over racism, meaning – homo sapiens are slow to evolve.

Therefore, it is pertinent for us to revisit history and to retell the story of Owens and Long, who were supposed to be rivals but their friendship remains a lesson for generations to emulate.

The inspiring story of Owens and Long is of camaraderie that sports can bring to our lives. The world today needs more such stories. Hopefully, Tokyo Olympics will bring some…

(The author, Samaresh Barman, is public relations officer at Tezpur University. The views expressed in this article are personal)

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