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Posted: August 5, 2009  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this

Athletics: Marlene Dortch teleconference excerpts

INDIANAPOLIS - USA Track & Field on Wednesday hosted a media teleconference featuring Marlene Dortch, who will accompany Team USA at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Athletics, August 15-23, at the 1936 Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany.

Dortch is the granddaughter of Olympic legend Jesse Owens, who became a worldwide icon at the 1936 Olympics when he won gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

Dortch and Kai Long, son of German Olympic long jump silver medalist Luz Long, will represent their families as they award the medals for the men's long jump final on August 22. They also will take part in other events related to the Championships.The appearances by Dortch and Long in Berlin are the result of a joint effort between the IAAF, USA Track & Field and the Berlin Organizing Committee.

At the 1936 Olympic Games, Long played a pivotal role in helping enable Owens to achieve his historic four gold-medal performance. During long jump qualifying, Owens had fouled during his first two attempts. Facing elimination from the competition if he did not post a qualifying mark on his third attempt, Owens received assistance from Long, who set the Olympic record during qualifying. Long suggested to Owens that he move back the start of his run-up so he would take off well before the long jump board.

Owens followed Long's advice and easily qualified for the final, where he won the competition with a leap of 8.06m/26 feet 5.5 inches, with Long taking the silver. The two walked from the stadium, arm-in-arm, and in the more than 70 years since that moment, the two families have remained in contact.

Excerpts from today's teleconference follow:

Opening statement from USA Track and Field CEO and General Secretary Doug Logan:

We are delighted to be participating in what we think is an extraordinary tribute to what the USA Track and Field roots are. To a large degree, Jesse Owens is the iconic figure for Track and Field in our country. What his legacy represents to our sport, on a global basis, we think it's entirely fitting and appropriate that we're able to honor not only the history that he's contributed to our sport, but also use this as a focus for the way our sport, and all sports in general, can add to the international understanding and the relationship of people who come from all walks of life, all ethnicities and all races. We're delighted to participate in this and would very much like to thank the Jesse Owens family for their participation. We think that the way this World Championship is going to play out, and the way the U.S. team will be honoring where our roots come from, is entirely appropriate. And again we're delighted to be a part of it.

Q: Marlene, as I recall, when you got the call to come to Berlin it came as a bit of surprise. Can you tell us what you're feeling now as you get ready to board a plane and head to Berlin?

A:: This will be my first opportunity to go to Berlin and I'm very excited to see the stadium where my grandfather competed. Just to be able to be a part of such a great moment is an honor for me and my family. The German people have always been so warm and welcoming to my family. I'm anticipating a great time, a wonderful experience and a great track meet as well.

Q: Has there been regular contact between your family and that of Luz Long's family over the years, or is this something new?

A:: My sister, Gina Hemphill, was in Berlin a few years ago and had the opportunity to meet Luz Long's niece and granddaughter and they e-mail each other. But I've never met anyone in the Luz Long family, so this is a great opportunity for me. Through the years we've always heard of the stories of Luz Long and my grandfather's relationship, so to be able to continue that relationship so many years later is exciting.

Q: You mentioned that the German people have always been so warm and welcoming to your family, when did that sort of relationship start?

A:: My grandfather traveled internationally. He had his own PR business and traveled to Germany during the Munich games and many members of my family attended the games. He was also involved in the IOC. I was too young, I was only seven so I didn't get a chance to go, but my parents, my aunts and uncles, and of course my grandparents, had such a wonderful time in Germany during those Olympic Games. During 2000, my mom and her two sisters, along with their spouses, were in Berlin and again it was just a wonderful visit. They were treated so warmly. People in Germany really know about my grandfather, from the youngest to the oldest, they are really aware of his accomplishments and the name Jesse Owens. As I mentioned before, my sister was in Germany in 1996. I think after Atlanta (Olympic Games) and the stadium was re-dedicated. She was telling me that she almost felt like a rock star because people were just so excited to see her. Just the fact that his name, and who he is means so much to the German people, those experiences that my family have had visiting Germany, those are the things I've heard throughout the years.

Q: Tell us a little about your family, your mother and her sisters, where do you live now, what do you do for a living and if people you work with or your friends know that you're related to Jesse Owens and what do they think of that?

A:: My mother is Gloria Owens Hemphill and she is the oldest daughter of the three. I live in Fort Washington, Maryland, which is a suburb of Washington D.C. I'm an attorney at the Federal Communication Commission here in Washington. It's interesting because I sometimes assume that people do know that my grandfather is Jesse Owens. One person would know they're excited and then they'll tell someone else. I've recently shared with my neighbor that I was going to go to Berlin and she wanted to know why. I told her and she was in a state of shock and was like "I didn't know that!" I've lived there for 14 years and I thought she knew. She ran inside and told her husband. The thing that I really enjoy is that some of my friends' children are involved with track and field and they either they know about my grandfather, or they want to be like him or their parents make sure that they know about him. I'm just happy that he's still a role model even for today's youth. But I always get positive feedback when they find out that he is my grandfather. Surprisingly a lot of people don't know.

Q: Where were you born, where did you grow up, and are members of your family going to Berlin? Have you visited any sites in Cleveland that are connected to your grandfather such as his statue or the oak tree that he planted here from the seedlings awarded to him as a gold medalist in Berlin?

A:: I was born and raised in Chicago where my grandparents lived for several years until they moved to Arizona. I was in Cleveland recently with my husband. I would go to Cleveland when I was a little girl because we had relatives; my grandfather and grandmother have extended family there that still live in Cleveland. I also went to law school at The Ohio State University. I've spent a lot of time visiting Ohio and we've got Buckeye in our blood.
I know that Congressman (Louis) Stokes when he was there in Cleveland and he was good friend with the family. He was very instrumental in getting the stamps of my grandfather approved. I know that we've always had a great relationship with the city of Cleveland.

Q: What was your personal relationship with your grandfather? When he passed away you must have been 16 and had vivid memories. Can you tell us something about this?

A:: My grandfather was one of those people who would light up a room. I remember as a child at dinner at public places, people would come up to him and he was always so warm and sign autographs and would refer to kids as champ, like "Hey, champ. How are you doing?" and that would make them feel so good. I think I told Grams this, but I think my family did an excellent job in making sure that to us he was Granddad. We certainly knew that he was famous, but he was our granddad and we thought of him that way and not as some icon that was a person in history. He spent time with us and we would spend our spring breaks in their home in Arizona. We'd go swimming and he would fuss at us too. He was a very special person and that's what you always felt when you were in his presence. I try to share that with my son as well and make sure he knows who his great-grandfather was, and that he was an outstanding human being.

Q: You are to meet with Luz Long's granddaughter in Berlin, have you been in touch with her? And did your grandfather tell you about the story with Luz?

A:: He really didn't talk about his Olympic experiences with us. It was just something we've never discussed. I think that he spent so much time telling his story with other people in interviews and such and that was a big part of his life when I was a child. He would travel the world and speak to different organizations and groups of people sharing his life experiences. So when we were together the focus was on being a family. He was great at that. He was great at being just Granddad. I think that my sister Gina and Luz's granddaughter have e-mailed each other. They have been in contact on a very friendly basis and talking about the excitement of Berlin coming up as well.

Q: Did your grandfather ever tell you the truth about whether or not he was snubbed by Adolf Hitler while on the podium?

A:: Like I said, he never really talked about those types of things. He lived that day like he lived any other day of his life. He did what he came to do and did not let any outside forces change who he was and what he was going to do. That's the way he lived his life and I think that was the lesson I learned about that day and about who he was. That's the truth that I get out of it.

Q: How did you learn about your grandfather's accomplishments and what it meant? Did it come through oral history from your family, did your parents tell you about it or did you have to learn it yourself?

A:: It was interesting to read about your grandfather in school and we did. Being in his presence, if we'd asked questions he would answer them. But on that day in particular, what he did in the Olympics, it was less of an oral history and more of what we learned watching and reading through the years.

Q: It is this very week in 1936 that your grandfather began competing in Berlin. Team USA is returning to the Olympic Stadium and all the athletes will wear the initials "JO" on their singlets. What are your thoughts on USATF honoring your grandfather that way?

A:: I'm thankful that his legacy and his name lives on. I hope that just having his initials on their apparel will inspire some of the athletes to remember this time so many years ago and it will inspire them. I know from people like Michael Johnson, who shared so much about what my grandfather meant to him, so I hope that it would continue. What a great tribute to his legacy. I'm very humbled and excited, and I'm looking forward to a wonderful time in Berlin.

About USA Track & Field
USA Track & Field (USATF) is the National Governing Body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States. USATF encompasses the world's oldest organized sports, some of the most-watched events of Olympic broadcasts, the #1 high school and junior high school participatory sport and more than 30 million adult runners in the United States.
For more information on USATF, visit USATF.org.


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