The story-line / Plot Summary
“My Greatest Olympic Prize” is a true story of the writer’s life – an autobiographical account of Jesse Owens’ experience of true friendship in the Berlin Olympics 1936 where he won four gold medals.
The Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, was preparing with his performers to prove the superiority of the Aryan race by winning the most gold medals in the events.
But Jesse Owens, an American Negro, had other plans in his mind. He was determined to prove Hitler’s theory wrong by taking home one or two of those gold medals. And with that goal in mind, he had trained hard and disciplined himself for six years. Moreover, a year before the grand event, Jesse set a world record of 26 feet 8-1/4 inches in running board jump at his university. So, everyone expected him to win that Olympic event easily.
But when Jesse reached Berlin and went to the board jump trials, he was surprised to see that a German athlete named Luz Long was hitting almost 26 feet at the practice leaps. He also came to know that Hitler had kept him under wraps, hoping to win the jump with him. Knowing Hitler’s cunning ways, Jesse got angry and more determined to win the board jump and to prove who was superior and who was not.
But an angry athlete always makes mistakes. Jesse fouled in the first two trial leaps by taking off from several inches beyond the line. Then he thought bitterly “Did I come 3000 miles for this? To foul out of the trials and make a fool of myself?”
Jesse was clearly frustrated and kicked the ground in disgust. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder. The man was none other than his German rival in the board jump Luz Long who had qualified for the finals on his first attempt. The friendly blue-eyed man offered Jesse a firm handshake. Then Luz encouraged him and suggested to leap from a few inches back of the board. His tip helped Jesse eventually qualify for the finals.
In that night Jesse met Luz to thank him and talked about themselves, sport events and the world situation among other things. Jesse came to know that Luz did not believe in the Aryan-supremacy theory. They became good friends after that conversation and Luz really wanted Jesse to do his best – even if that meant Jesse’s winning.
The next day Luz broke his own past record and that inspired Jesse for a peak performance. When finally he landed from his final jump, Luz was the first man there to congratulate him. He shook hands with Jesse firmly, despite the fact that Hitler was watching them from the stands. This was a great display of true friendship and sportsman spirit from Luz.
Jesse Owens went on to win four gold medals that year. But he feels that Luz Long’s friendship was the greatest Olympic prize which he won in Berlin. In fact, their friendship ended only when Long died in World War II.
Owens adds a note after his story that Luz was the perfect example of the sportsman spirit that Pierre de Coubertin, founder of modern Olympic Games, had in mind when he said that taking part and fighting well is more important than winning or conquering.
My Greatest Olympic Prize: A Commentary on the story
As already told, the story is an autobiographical piece written in 1960 by the world-famous athlete Jesse Owens. The title of the story refers to the friendship of Luz Long as the writer’s greatest Olympic prize. Though he won four gold medals, the life-long friendship was much bigger achievement for him.
The story is set in the backdrop of Berlin Olympics 1936 where the writer first met his German rival in the board jump Luz Long and they went on to become good friends. True friendship and true sportsmanship are the main themes of the story.
The narration and language used are rather simple and straightforward. The author has been able to draw the two main characters well. Jesse has been a motivated athlete determined to prove his worth. On the other hand, Luz Long represents the epitome of true friendship with his friendly blue eyes and firm handshakes. He has shown great character in encouraging and helping his rival in difficult situation. Hitler is shown as a proud and prejudiced administrator with his wily ways to prove his race superior. Jesse went on to prove him wrong. But all this wouldn’t have been possible without the broad-mindedness of Luz Long.
“My Greatest Olympic Prize” has been one of the most honest memoirs in English literature. It boosts one’s belief in essential human goodness.