Owens ruins Hitler's plan to showcase Aryan supremacy

One man, five days of competition, four gold medals won. That equation should have been enough to make any athlete stand out in a crowd of his contemporaries. Yet Jesse Owens' performances in the Berlin Olympics of 1936 were tainted and are remembered for so much more than his endeavours in athletics.

Admittedly Owens was different to most of his rivals - he was black. A 23-year-old American Negro had marched into Adolf Hitler's den, a place prepared to showcase Aryan supremacy, and stolen the gold and the glory.

When Berlin was chosen in 1931 as the host city for these Olympics few imagined that within such a short period of time they would be imbued with so much political significance given to them by the emergence of Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Hitler oversaw a number of momentous innovations to the Games. It was the first Olympics that introduced the torch relay, where a lighted torch is carried from Olympia in Greece to the site of the current Games. They were also the first Games to be shown on television - on 25 screens set up throughout Berlin and available to the public for free - and to have their own film, Olympia , directed by famous Nazi-propagandist Leni Riefenstahl.

The German leader attended the Berlin stadium daily, fervently celebrating home winners - and in a blatant show of nationalism inviting them up to his private box to celebrate - but refusing to acknowledge the achievements of those he considered "animals".

Owens, of course, among that group, managed to transcend the boundaries maniacally being imposed by Hitler's regime to win over the German people. His performances, not his skin colour, affected the crowd. Huge cheers, much to Hitler's dismay, bellowed forth each time he entered the arena.

Ten other black American athletes won gold medals to undermine Hitler's views on superiority, but it was the "Alabama antelope" that left the strongest imprint.

On day one he equalled the 100 metres world record of 10.3sec in his heat and charged his way through the quarter and semi-finals. The winning podium was waiting the following day and Owens obliged, again matching the record.

Day three was a more flurried affair, with the 200m Olympic and world record shattered in the heats prior to the long jump qualification. Two faults left Owens with one jump to qualify and helped write a fable that would have read like a horror story to Hitler. Lutz Long, a blond German jumper and the archetypal Aryan, helped his overstepping opponent by placing a handkerchief six inches behind the take-off board.

Owens took off a foot behind the board but landed two feet beyond the qualification mark. Having qualified for the 200m semi-finals in between, Owens returned to the pit and won by producing the first 26-foot jump in Olympic history. He broke the record again with his final leap, a mark of 26ft 5ins that would not be broken until 1960.

In one day Owens had broken or equalled Olympic records four times and world records twice. Two events won, two victories and Owens was foiling the Fuhrer.

The next day he tore into the lead in the 200m and cruised to gold in 20.7sec, yet another world best.

Nobody since the 1900 Olympiad had won three gold medals in track and field. Owens gained a fourth - and another world record - in the 4x100m relay. "The road to the Olympics leads to no city, no country," Owens later wrote. "The road to the Olympics leads, in the end, to the best within us."

Hitler may have regarded Owens as scarcely human. His performances in the 1936 Games suggested he may have been right, but for far different reasons.

Date Games held: August 1-16

Number of nations represented: 49

Number of competitors: 3,956 (328 women)

Number of medal events: 129