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Living in the Same Box

posted 24 Feb 2013, 08:33 by Mpelembe   [ updated 24 Feb 2013, 08:34 ]

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 inferior.

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."


Steve Goodier is a professional
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