BERLIN - The families of Jesse Owens and Luz Long took part in a press conference Saturday afternoon in the media interview tent located adjacent to Olympic Stadium.
The granddaughter of Jesse Owens, Marlene Dortch, and the son and granddaughter of Luz Long, Kai and Julia-Vanessa Long, all spoke about the mutual legacies of their families.
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 advice from Long, who set the Olympic record during qualifying.
Owens followed Long's suggestion 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. Luz's son, Kai, himself met Jesse Owens on several occasions after his father's death in World War II, and the athletes' children and grandchildren have remained in contact.
The families on Saturday night will present the medals for the men's long jump in honor of Mr. Owens and Mr. Long.
Throughout the 2009 outdoor athletics season, USA Track & Field has promoted the team's return to Berlin, honoring Owens in all its domestic television broadcasts. At the World Championships, the U.S. is wearing a special uniform which features the initials of Mr. Owens. Excerpts from the press conference follow.
Q: Marlene, what is it like for you to see Usain Bolt compete where your grandfather had so much success:
A: Marlene Dortch: It was very exciting to see Usain Bolt here. My grandfather competed here in 1936. The sport and the stadium are different from then to now. My grandfather would love to be here to see Usain break records. My grandfather said records were made to be broken. They have different pressure. Their paths are more different.
A: Kai Long (through interrupter): We met in 1951. Jesse Owens came with the Harlem Globetrotter basketball team. We met in Hamburg. He was dressed very smart. He went to see if I would come. He met for a short time with everybody. I met him again in 1964 when we did the film, "Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin." I guess the movie was never shown in Germany.
Q: Julia, what are your impressions of Jesse Owens?
A:Julia-Vanessa Long (through interrupter): What I know of Jesse Owens has been through the story of their friendship my grandfather. Through my grandfather, I knew him with the silver medal. I enjoy telling the story, and making it go further.
Q: To Kai Long: Considering the times, what are your thoughts of the courage it took for your father to assist Jesse Owens during long jump qualifying?
A: I think it is not a question of race, black and white. It's about the spirit of the amateur athletes, the action of the clean amateurs. I was told it was absolutely that in amateur sports to help each other. What my father did probably happened several times during the 1936 Olympics. But Jesse, of course, said it was a fantastic thing that his opponent was ready to help him through the qualifications. From his point of view, he did it again, and made it a special part of his story. This was a little fire. Not an action, but a little fire lit by Jesse Owens. It was the same by the amateurs. The context of what began, this fire, got brighter and brighter and is still burning. There was no action, it just happened. All I know is what family and friends told me. It was a normal sports happening.
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