The greatest 45 minutes in the history of sport
WERE I to ask you, fellow fan, to name the most impressive sporting achievement of all time, I’m sure the answers would flow thick and fast.
“Mark,” you would say, grin spreading in anticipation of a frank exchange of views about our favourite subject, “the greatest sporting achievement ever is surely Sir Steve Redgrave’s five consecutive Olympic gold medals.”
Or perhaps you’d plump for Pele’s three World Cups, Roger Bannister’s famous sub-four minute mile, Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals in Beijing or even Lance Armstrong’s seven straight Tour de France crowns.
All worthy of chucking into the discussion, I’d agree. But then I’d fix you with my best serious stare (which I’m afraid is none too serious, though hopefully enough to add sufficient gravitas to my impending utterance) and say “what about Jesse Owens in 1935?”
At which point, the argument may cease. I’d at least expect a considered silence. You see, 75 years ago this week, the incomparable Owens did something that will never, ever, be done again. And how many sporting achievements can you say that about with certainty?
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In the space of 45 minutes on May 25, 1935, Owens set four world records. Say it again, with feeling - FOUR. In less than an hour.
I have no idea how the crowd at the Big Ten Track and Field Championships reacted, but I get goose-bumps just thinking about it.
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A year before he destroyed Hitler’s ideal of the superior Aryan race by winning four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Owens set new world bests in the 100-yard sprint, long-jump, 220-yard sprint and 220-yard low hurdles.
He clocked 9.4 seconds to tie the 100-yard record (many official timers had him at 9.3, but rules of the day meant he was given his slowest recorded time) before leaping 26 feet, 8 1/4 inches in the long jump and smashing the 220-yard record of 20.6 seconds with a scorching 20.3.
Owens finished his fantasy 45 minutes with 22.6 seconds in the hurdles, becoming the first man to break 23 seconds. He had done it all between 3.15pm and 4pm. Not bad.
These days we get all weepy and hysterical if an athlete is good enough to break one world record. Rightly so - I myself leapt out of my seat and screamed in several mysterious tongues when Usain Bolt obliterated the 100-metre record in Beijing 2008.
But let’s put Owens’ achievement into context. Imagine if Bolt, the most freakishly-gifted athlete many of us have ever seen, were to canter out in the Olympic Stadium at London 2012 and break his already ridiculous 9.58-second 100-metre record.
Bedlam would ensue, Bolt would draw back his bow and the crowd would go home happy. Yet just to start thinking about matching Owens, Usain would have to jog over to the long jump pit and leap better than 8.95-metres to break Mike Powell’s 1991 mark.
That done, Bolt would then only have to improve upon his 19.19-second best in the 200 metres and finish up with a fourth record - perhaps he’d fancy a crack at Michael Johnson’s 400-metre time of 43.18, set in 1999, or DayRon Robles’ 12.87-second 110-metre hurdles run from 2008.
Either way, he’d only have the time it takes to play one half of football to do it in. It simply would not happen - though I’d love to see him try.
After Berlin, Owens career was cut tragically short. Banned by a racist American Amateur Athletic Union shortly after the Olympics for not competing in a minor event in Sweden, he last raced competitively at the age of 22.
Yet his legacy remains. Owens blazed a trail for black athletes in the face of rampant abuse and intolerance, and his records stood the test of time - his 1935 long jump mark, for example, would have been enough to claim seventh at the last Olympics.
In a day and age where we like to think that our sporting stars are bigger, faster and better than ever before, we must never allow the memories of Jesse and that incredible day of May 25, 1935, to be dimmed.
For as much as we hype and wax lyrical about our modern day sports heroes, we will never see the likes of Owens, or that day, again.
I HAVE often banged the drum for mixed martial arts in this column, and hopefully some among you are already fans.
If not, tonight is the night which I implore you to take an interest.
The MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas plays host to one of the most anticipated fights of the year, as the fantastically-named Rampage Jackson faces bitter foe Rashad Evans in a UFC light-heavyweight bout.
They have been at each other’s throats since a face-to-face standoff following Jackson’s last fight in March 2009.
The resultant trash talk has been both amusing and absorbing and, now that Rampage has returned to fighting after time off to play BA Baracus in the new A-Team movie, fans are giddy at the prospect of finally seeing them trade blows.
Count me among them. This is a classic speed meets power match-up, pitting Evans’ slickness and style against Jackson’s raw, destructive strength.
Who wins? I’ve a feeling that Rashad (19-1-1) is more well-rounded than Jackson, and can envisage him finding enough success by mixing his fast hands with the occasional take-down to keep Rampage (30-7) off balance and claim a close points decision.
He’ll have to be disciplined and avoid any urge to brawl though - because if Rampage gets a chance to detonate one of his nuclear arsenal of hooks or uppercuts, Rashad’s night will be over in a rather more sudden and violent way than he’d like.
- Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow me on Twitter at mark__heath.