Posted December 02, 2013

One of Jesse Owens’ 1936 Berlin Olympics gold medals up for auction

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Jesse Owens (Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

Jesse Owens died in 1980 at the age of 66. (Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

One of Jesse Owens’ four Olympic gold medals is being auctioned on a sports memorabilia website.

Owens won four events at the 1936 Berlin Games — 100 meters, 200 meters, 4×100-meter relay and long jump — in the backdrop Adolf Hitler trying to showcase Aryan supremacy in Nazi Germany.

“Almost singlehandedly, Owens obliterated Hitler’s plans,” said Dan Imler, a partner at SCP Auctions, who is auctioning the medal, to the Associated Press. “You’ve got an African American, son of a sharecropper, grandson of slaves who overcame these incredible circumstances and delivered a performance for the ages.”

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But Owens struggled to provide for his family upon his return, as job options were limited due to segregation. He was also stripped of his amateur status after going home rather than touring with the Olympic team.

“When they came back, the U.S. was just as it was when he left — segregated,” said his daughter, Marlene Owens Rankin. “Even though he came back an Olympic hero, he wasn’t offered opportunities that Olympic heroes of today are offered. We lived well, a middle class life. We didn’t want for much. But like many black men of that era, he struggled to provide for his family.”

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Owens gave one of his medals to dancer and movie star Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, whom Owens befriended after he returned from the Olympics.

“They formed a friendship and also a professional relationship. Bojangles helped Owens get work in the entertainment field,” Imler said. “Owens gave him this medal out of gratitude and as a token of their friendship.”

The medal up for auction comes from the estate of Robinson’s widow. The Robinson family declined to comment, but Imler said the family plans to use the money to pay for college tuition and contribute to charity. The auction closes on Dec. 7.

The whereabouts of the other three gold medals is unknown.

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