Usain Bolt or Jesse Owens: Whose Berlin Performance Was More Impressive?

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Usain Bolt or Jesse Owens: Whose Berlin Performance Was More Impressive?
(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

The year is 1936, and Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime is well under way. Just three years later, Germany would invade Poland, and the deadliest conflict in human history, World War II, would begin.

Yet, inexplicably, the Olympics were to be held in the fulcrum of Nazi Germany—Berlin.

It was seen by Hitler as a chance to show off the nation's superiority; a chance to demonstrate his demonic view of the "perfect race."

One man, however, had not read the script. Jesse Owens, a black American, single-handedly undermined the entire Nazi regime by winning four gold medals.

He had to endure racism, discrimination, and a partisan nation fiercely behind his German competitors and emphatically against his participation, yet he still triumphed.

The Jesse Owens story has since gone down in history as one of the greatest sporting moments of all time.

Fast-forward to the present day, and the dust has just settled on another great moment in sport: Usain Bolt's latest record-breaking spree.

In the same city where Owens so boldly stood up against the odds, Bolt blew everyone away once again.

The "Lightning Bolt" first came to worldwide attention at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The style in which he smashed the 100m world record shocked the world. He ran it in 9.69 seconds, and he eased off in the final 20 meters.

He followed this up with another gold medal and world record in the 200m, and then put the icing on a very tasty cake with success in the 4x100m relay.

Everyone wanted to see whether he could do it again at the World Championships. There was a buzz about track and field like never before, as one of the greatest characters to have graced athletics became revered around the world.

He didn't disappoint.

He smashed the 100m record once again in a jaw-dropping 9.58 seconds before shaving the same 0.11-second margin off his own 200m record, running an unbelievable 19.19.

Usain Bolt had left the world speechless again.

Owens triumphed in the face of adversity. Bolt triumphed in the face of impossibility.

But whose performance was more impressive?

Well, in terms of medals, it was Jesse Owens'. His four gold medals, in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, and the long jump, outweighs Bolt's haul.

In terms of pure athletic performance, it was probably Usain Bolt's. The way he cruised to victory has never been seen before, and may never be seen again. At just 23, he is known as the greatest sprinter of all time.

Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, and Roger Federer may disagree, but never have I seen such total domination in a sport as what we are seeing with Bolt.

But we can put the medal count and the athletic aspect to one side when making the decision.

Usain Bolt ran fast. He had nothing else to worry about.

Jesse Owens ran fast with the weight of the world on his shoulders; he ran fast with the criticism of a racist society on his back; and he ran fast with all the hopes and dreams of his fellow African-Americans on his head.

Under such a weight of expectancy and responsibility, there is no doubt that Jesse Owens was, is, and always will be the most impressive sprinter of all time, no matter how good Bolt gets.

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