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Why Did This German Olympian Help Jesse Owens While Hitler Watched?

By February 16, 2019 No Comments

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

In 1936, Carl Ludwig “Luz” Long was an Olympian who embodied the very ideal of the Nazi party. A tall, blue-eyed and blond 21-year-old, Long at the time held the European record for the long jump and was expecting — along with his country’s leaders — to win a gold medal in the upcoming Berlin Olympic games.

Long would eventually fight with the German army against the Allies during World War II and meet his end after receiving fatal wounds during the Battle of St Pietro in 1943.

But that was in the future. For now, Long would be facing a different kind of enemy: am African American named Jesse Owens who personified the very antithesis of Hitler’s white, supreme-race theory. Owens would ultimately make history at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by winning four gold medals, breaking or equaling nine Olympic records and setting three new world records.

But Owens didn’t win all those medals on his own. He had some help — at least for one. That help came from a very unlikely source: the future German soldier Long.

Owens was struggling with the long jump. The 23-year-old athlete had always excelled at the event, but this time he fouled on his first two attempts in the qualifying round. Facing the prospect of not making the final round, Owens struggled to regain his composure. That’s when Long, his competitor and the favorite to win the event, stepped in. Not to taunt or mock. But to give advice.

“Something must be eating you,” Long said, according to this story from The Independent. “You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed.” Long made suggestions that helped Owens regain his composure and change his approach. The suggestions worked. Owens easily accomplished the qualifying distance and then ultimately won the event, beating the heavily favored Long and angering the German leadership.

So who was the first person to congratulate Owens on his long jump victory? It was the future German soldier.

“What I remember most was the friendship I struck up with Luz Long,” Owens later wrote about that period. “He was my strongest rival, yet it was he who advised me to adjust my run-up in the qualifying round and thereby helped me to win.”

Turns out Long wasn’t just a competitor. He was a long-time admirer of the famed American athlete – and a lover of their mutual craft.

It’s a big world with plenty of ways to share the wealth. In business, as in life, true professionals — including rivals — respect and help each other succeed. By doing so they improve their craft, further the success of their profession, build relationships, share in the rewards…and may even help the world become just a little bit better.

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