Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics. Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road: Grantland Rice wrote of Jesse Owens that “he had great power in his legs…he had blinding speed…and his style was flawless-with no sign of extra effort. Jesse was as smooth as the west wind.”
The legend of Jesse Owens is told with all its glory and a few faults in Jeremy Schapp’s history, which is part autobiography and part exploration of the era in which Jesse came to be the most renowned runner of his time.
As a black man in the 1930s, many of the advantages white runners received were denied to blacks in America. In addition to this hardship, Owens was preparing to race in the 1936 German Olympics under the rule of a white supremacist who was already the cause of mounting tension that would develop into World War II.
None of these bumps could stop Jesse Owens in his drive to prove his speed and skill on the track for the benefit of his family and his country. Owens did not win every race in his journey to the Olympics, however and Schapp is careful to explain some of the problems the athlete faced. Personal problems, issues with qualifying for his college team, and even the threat of an American boycott of the Games threatened to ruin the runner’s chances at gold.
Schapp does not focus solely on Owens. He also delves into the mindsets and personalities that impacted Owens and sports in general. He speaks critically of the heavy hand of the American Olympics Committee, which went so far as to disqualify an athlete because of her personal habits. Schapp profiles an influential German female filmmaker, with close ties to Hitler, who shot the events of the Games.
He also showcases a moment of friendship and sportsmanship in the form of an unexpected and enduring bond between German athlete Luz Long and Owens. Throughout the narrative, Jeremy Schapp presents an enthralling and well-researched history that has all the excitement and anticipation of a live sports event.
Despite the obvious fact that Jesse Owens was an Olympic champion, Schapp brings us to the edge of our seats as the tension rises and the athlete takes the field. Throughout the book, Schapp’s reminds us that Jesse Owens was a hero who stood up to the Third Reich and was victorious against it.
Shelly Frasier is the voice of the audio book version of Triumph. His slightly gravelly tone is reminiscent of an old-time radio announcer. Frasier portrays the awe of Jesse Owen’s achievements while bringing to life the excitement of the events portrayed in the book without overdoing it. Highly recommended.