From the author of Cinderella Man (2005), another true-life tale of an underdog asserting his worth with a sports triumph.
Schaap, the host of ESPN’s Outside the Lines, seeks to cut through the apocryphal tales that sprang up in the wake of Jesse Owens’s record-breaking performance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin by drawing on accounts from sportswriters, eyewitnesses and the athlete himself. He attempts to get inside Owens’s head while exploring everything from Hitler’s alleged snubbing of black athletes to the nature of the unlikely friendship between the American track star and German long-jumper Luz Long. Like many African-Americans of the time, Owens (1913–80) grew up in poverty and grappled with discrimination. While at Ohio State, he pumped gas for hours each day to support his wife and young child; even though he’d tied several world records on his high-school track team, he was not offered a scholarship. Success and controversy followed. He endured accusations of obtaining money from the Ohio state legislature without having earned it, racy tabloid stories of romantic trysts and questions about the genetic advantages of black athletes. With the help of high-school mentor Charles Riley and college coach Larry Snyder, Owens qualified for the Olympics. After a lengthy debate about whether participation in the Nazi Games was ethical—a discussion that had special resonance for African-Americans, whose circumstances bore striking similarities to those faced by Jews—the U.S. chose to take part, setting the stage for Owens to show the world a true superman not descended from Aryan stock. The author offers an in-depth story whose only flaw is its narrow timeframe, depriving readers of a look at Owens’s later years.
Explodes off the blocks and proceeds with grace and fluidity.