Living in the Same Box
By Steve Goodier
David Wallechinsky in The Complete Book Of The Olympics (Penguin
Books, 1984) gives us a story that is worth retelling.
It is 1936. American Jesse Owens seems sure to win the long-jump
competition in the Olympic games. The previous year he had jumped
26 feet, 8 1/4 inches - a record that will stand for 25 years.
As he walks to the long-jump pit, however, Owens sees a tall,
blue-eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26-foot
range. Owens feels nervous. He is acutely aware of the Nazis'
desire to prove "Aryan superiority." And as a black son of a
sharecropper, he knows what it is like to be made to feel
On his first jump, Owens inadvertently leaps from several inches
beyond the takeoff board. Rattled, he fouls on his second
attempt, too. One more foul and he will be eliminated.
At this point, the tall German introduces himself as Luz Long.
"You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed!" he says to
Owens, referring to his upcoming two jumps.
For the next few moments, the African American and the white Nazi
chat together. Then Long makes a suggestion. Since the qualifying
distance is only 23 feet, 5 1/2 inches, why not make a mark
several inches before the takeoff board and jump from there, just
to play it safe? Owens does and qualifies easily.
In the finals, Owens sets an Olympic record and earns the second
of four gold medals. But who is the first person to congratulate
him? Luz Long - in full view of Adolf Hitler.
Owens never again sees Long, who is later killed in World War II.
"You could melt down all the medals and cups I have," Owens later
writes, "and they wouldn't be a plating on the 24-carat
friendship I felt for Luz Long."
Luz Long made his mark in world history and taught the rest of us
a valuable lesson.
Someone else put it like this: "We can learn a lot from crayons.
Some are sharp... some are pretty... some are dull... some have
weird names... and all are different colors.... But they all have
to learn to live in the same box."