18:00 PM

Ohio State leads effort on behalf of alumnus Jesse Owens

COLUMBUS – The Ohio State University is leading an initiative to have a statue of legendary track star Jesse Owens represent the state of Ohio in the U. S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall. The university today (11/6) presented its case to members of the National Statuary Collection Study Committee.

"Jesse Owens was not only a stellar athlete, but a true diplomat for humanity," said Rusty Wilson, an Ohio State alumnus, staff member and author of the book, The Ohio State University at the Olympics. "His athletic accomplishments have long been surpassed, and although he has been gone for more than 29 years, he still is recognized the world over more for his triumph over adversity and tyranny.

"In fact, whenever I travel abroad and mention The Ohio State University, people respond 'Ah, Jesse Owens' university.' It's clear he is considered the ultimate Olympian and example of all that is positive in sport," said Wilson.

Wilson was one of several university and community representatives who spoke to the committee on the appropriateness of Owens' selection. Speakers also included Ohio State alumnae Marlene Owens Rankin, who is Owens' daughter, and Stephanie Hightower, a former student athlete and Olympic track star, as well as alumnus and former student athlete Rob Oller, a Columbus Dispatch columnist.

Rankin is vice president and managing director of The Jesse Owens Foundation.

The National Statuary Hall houses 100 marble statues – two from each state – of individuals of notable historic importance who reflect and represent the values of their native state. Ohio has been represented by President James A. Garfield, chosen in 1886, and William Allen, chosen in 1887. In 2000, Ohio's General Assembly decided to replace the statue of Allen, a former governor who opposed Lincoln's emancipation of the slaves. The Study Committee has been charged with finding a suitable replacement.

Jesse Owens, who grew up in Cleveland, broke several world records while competing for The Ohio State University in 1935. He made history at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by winning four gold medals in track and field, thwarting Adolf Hitler's intention of proving Aryan superiority at the Games.

Forty years after he won his gold medals, Owens received the Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford. In 1979 President Jimmy Carter honored Owens with a Living Legend Award, and, in 1990, President George H. W. Bush awarded him a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal. Owens died in 1980.