The last interview with Jesse Owens with terminal cancer

It was a Spanish journalist who came to his home in Phoenix with no help other than his own intuition. His wife opened the door for him. The journalist was Miguel Vidal who died yesterday at the age of 78. His heritage leaves us treasures like this one with Jesse Owens with all his intrahistory.

Miguel Vidal (1942-2021) died yesterday at the age of 78. An old reporter from As who I think was one of those responsible for my studying journalism. I met him those two summers when I did an internship at the newspaper. He was one of my bosses. I know what I’m going to do now you will like. I am going to transcribe one of the 73 interviews he did with Olympic champions looking for them in their places of residence with no help other than his own intuition. This time it was Jesse Owens, the hero of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I remember this interview he taught me himself in those old bound volumes of AS every year. I also remember tears threatening his eyes. He couldn’t hide his pride or nostalgia. Miguel Vidal had already stopped being a reporter, from traveling the world. The day you become boss, you stop doing what you like. But on February 12, 1980, 48 days before Jesse Owens died, Vidal left us this gift for life that explains a journalism that almost no longer exists.

Not so long ago, on his Facebook page, Vidal explained that “not even in the wildest of my dreams could I imagine that the last interview of his life Jesse Owens would give it to me. ” But Vidal made it to Owens’ home on East Acotilla Lane in Phoenix, Arizona. “Why did Ruth Owens, née Solomon, let me into her house?” He wondered. “I have thought about that many times. The fact is that 4 years earlier she had already rang the bell of her magnificent white chalet and when she told me that her husband was in Montreal (Canada) 0, because he was a representative of tartan tracks, Ruth ended up telling me “if you come back here this is your House”.

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“Over here” was Phoenix, the capital of Arizona, to which Miguel Vidal returned four years later. “I touched he same timbreRuth opened the gate and when she saw me she began to cry on my shoulder. “I told you that if you came back this would be your home. My husband was brought in from Tucson Hospital yesterday because the doctors can do nothing to cure his lung cancer. He has only a few days to live ”.

It was shocking to walk into the house and see the great Jesse Owens feeding through an oxygen bottle. I was in a long chase watching a western starring John Wayne, and after shaking his hand he told me in a small voice:

–Oh!, boy…I’m very sick…

But very sick and all, sick of leaving, he had a gesture of greatness to which I will be grateful as long as I live. He asked his wife for new glasses, whom he affectionately called “Baby”, he took off the tubes from his nose for the photos –“I don’t want Spanish fans to see me like this“, He said- and he begged me for patience for the talk, in which from time to time he inserted some expression in Spanish. With the tape recorder very close to his lips so as not to lose any of his words, the account of his life in these conditions had a special emotion:

– I was born in Oakville, Alabama, on September 12, 1913. From a very young age I worked with my other brothers in the cotton fields. My father, Henry Owens, worked a twenty hectare plot with our help. We worked from sunrise to sunset. He barely saw anyone and life, although hard, passed smoothly. I remember my first anger me first pity the I had a the eight years when someone called me “nigger” in a derogatory tone, that’s how it hurts.

A long pause, at the recommendation of his wife, and back to work:

–At 10 we went to live in Cleveland, in Ohio. I stepped into a school for the first time, I worked as a newsboy As an elevator operator, at a gas station, until I was 13 years old when a man named Charles Riley crossed my path, who set out to make an athlete of me.

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-He made you a champion …

–A champion and a man. I had a very stunted physique then and even suffered from pneumonia frequently, But when Riley took over my preparation, my physique changed like a miracle. It is true that the nine brothers all worked and at home there was no shortage of clothes or hot food. Something important and that I have always wanted for all families, whatever their color.

At 17 Jesse and Ruth met and decided to get married. They both still smile shyly when they remember it. Jesse, perhaps because of emotion, becomes louder, more audible when he says:

“Ruth was my first girlfriend and my only love.” And it has had a decisive importance in my life, since to obtain a decent position I fought with all my might against time and distance, which are the goals of the athlete. And it went well for me.

–He goes to the Berlin Olympiad and causes a sensation …

-I was lucky. I trusted my strength, but since the media was scarce in those days, the Olympiad was something of a surprise. Nobody knew the previous marks of the rival, which made each one come believing the best.

-And the best was you …

–I won four gold medals, and what is better, a great friend: Lutz Long. We knew that Adolph Hitler proclaimed race differences, and he was white and I was black. But in sport, above all else, there is camaraderie and Long gave me a wonderful lesson in this regard when placed his tracksuit on the exact spot where I should place my foot in the long jump and thus avoid being disqualified… –Jesse takes a breath, and continues –I won the test because that’s the sport, and when we hugged, the hundred thousand people who were in the stadium cheered us.

-All except one, I suppose …

“Hitler?” I didn’t even remember to look at him. I knew I was coming to the stadium from the murmurs of the people, but I was there to compete and win. And have made a friend. I cried the day that I knew Lutz Long had died in the war.

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Loaded with glory and with four gold medals in his luggage – a 100-meter dash, a 200-meter dash, a 4 × 100-meter relay and a long jump – Jesse Owens had a gigantic reception upon arrival in New York. As there have been few. Blacks saw him as a symbol of their race, and whites as the American who had ridiculed the Führer.

Today, one of the walks that lead to the Olympic Stadium in Berlin is named after Jesse Owens. But after the Berlin Olympics a bitter reality was experienced.

Despite the four medals, nobody offered me a decent job. And since I had a family to support, I started to earn a living running against horses. It might be demeaning from an athletic point of view, but one should never be so proud as to despise a decent income. Later, in 1938, someone proposed to me to participate in a laundry business: he put the money and I the name. But the bird flew and I had to take care of the debts: no less than $ 50,000. We had to sell a house we had in Chicago and, with the war and all, I found that at 40 I had no job or profit. Luckily, then the possibility of becoming a public relations officer came up and I’m still doing that. I work for five different companies.

I have to end the interview. Courtesy to the sick requires it. Ruth, always attentive, takes a photo of us together (in it I cannot hide the bitterness of the moment) and with an exquisite touch she separates me from her husband to show me the superb house from which you can see the Squaw Pike or mountain of the Indian woman, one of the most beautiful in Arizona. And with a muted tone, oozing an infinite sadness for what lies ahead, He tells me about his four daughters, his son Jesse, his seven grandchildren and now a great-grandson, who all live in Chicago. When I say goodbye at the barrier, he cries again on my shoulder And me with her.

Today, I don’t bother you anymore, Miguel Vidal. DEP and ask Jesse 0wens for an autograph for us.

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