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The Weight of History

If Usain Bolt (9.58 seconds) or Andre De Grasse (9.91 seconds) ran the 100m at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, how would they’ve fared against the legendary Jesse Owens (10.3 seconds)? Too bad we’ll never know.

Well, as Marty McFly would say, “This is heavy, Doc.”

The time traveling dash took place shortly prior to this year’s Olympics.

The natural inclination for sports commentators and analysts is to hype current athletes and achievements with superlatives. At times, the compliments fly at a slightly exaggerated rate. How quickly we forget the results of the past…or even just the last year. Still, there are athletic performances (individual and team) that warrant lightning-in-a-bottle fanfare. But it’s important to introduce perspective whenever possible. The fact is that Usain Bolt is a sprinter we may never see again in our lifetime. If you were to design the perfect sprinter, that final concept would look a hell of a lot like the 6’5″ Jamaican.

Witnessing Usain Bolt sprint today is the closest feat of running dominance and wow factor fans can experience that compares to the “Buckeye Bullet” people saw take flight 80 years ago.

Mr. Bolt’s achievements are undeniably laudable. However, as the phrase, “The greatest of all-time” is being cemented with his legacy, the video above shouldn’t necessarily deny that illustrious label. Instead, the struggle and significantly slower time produced by the 2016 Olympic 100m bronze medalist Andre De Grasse (9.91 seconds) should provide historical perspective and weight to the conditions, resources and technological advances made between 1936 Germany and 2016 Rio.

Usain Bolt is a once-in-a-lifetime sprinting legend and one of the fastest runners ever.

That’s an accurate statement at any point in track & field history.

1 Giant Leap (and 3 Sprints) for Mankind

Running is much more than just running.

Despite the absence of modern technology and the absence of advanced training, Jesse Owens forever cemented a legacy for the ages as a track and field legend during the first half of the 20th century. Mr. Owens shattered world records in college for Ohio State University while competing in that state up north (dubbed, “Greatest 45 minutes in sports” by SI) and shocked and defied Hitler and his Nazi regime during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Thankfully, he has finally received the big movie treatment his family (and fans) deserve.

Race, starring Stephan James as Jesse Owens, hits theaters tomorrow.

Like most sports movies, the real story and personal triumph is much larger than the actual sport. The drive, determination, struggle and inspiration for success is rooted in something profound. Personally, track and field did not earn my love and respect from meets in the 3rd grade through high school (with Junior Olympics and AAU) because of spikes, a blazing hot track, long days and a sand box.

There is a prolonged simplicity to this sport; a competition that takes hours of training and waiting, and yet the fate of an athlete is revealed in a matter of minutes and seconds (and even hundredths of a second).

Running is running, except that it’s not.

My memories of running and jumping throughout the summers of my youth are some of my favorites. Whenever I reflect on the good ol’ days, I’m left smiling. This instinctive reaction is difficult to explain, but it’s undeniably special. Having competed in meets for a decade, there is a magnetism towards this sport unlike others. There’s always something more, whether it’s an extra .34 seconds off the starting blocks or another two inches in the high jump or a better finishing kick in the 1500 meter run/run of death, there was always something more left wanting.

And while these goals were pursued on the track, the achievements were felt far beyond the painted restrictions of lane 4.

And that’s why tomorrow’s theatrical release of Race has me excited.

One of the meets my mom insisted I compete in was held at Ohio Stadium. The reason? This particular competition was made possible with help from a sprinting star in his own right Butch Reynolds and because it was held in the same stadium where Jesse Owens ran as a Buckeye.

For a track athlete, this setting was dreamlike.

The legend of Jesse Owens starts with his superhuman 45-minute performance in that state up north and his four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in front of Hitler (100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, long jump), but he will continue to be remembered for so much more.

What do the Germans think of Jesse Owens today?

The street outside Berlin’s Olympic Stadium is named Jesse-Owens-Allee.

Ein Weg zur Gleichberechtigung (A road towards equality).

P.S. Eternal thanks to my amazing mom who took me to every track practice and every meet, near and very, very far!

Ohio Against the World

Jesse Owens ran in a lane nobody thought was possible.

Rarely are sports simply about the competition alone. The undercurrents run much deeper and the motivation for an athlete can reveal their character. In the case of Jesse Owens, a once-in-a-lifetime runner and jumper, his finish line was different and more profound than everybody else on the track. The risk-reward for Owens was so great it extended beyond Ohio’s borders and got the attention of Nazi Germany and Hitler himself at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Ladies and gentlemen, you’ll never look at track and field or Owens the same way again after watching this brand new trailer for Race.

While it feels like a marathon to get the story of Jesse Owens told on the silver screen, his life on-and-off the track will win over our hearts and minds in a matter of seconds.

10.3 to be exact.