HistoryFebruary 20, 2016

Former USGA President Sandy Tatum was eyewitness to Jesse Owens’ Olympic heroics

Those in their 95th year only figuratively have seen it all, though former USGA President Sandy Tatum could put forth a credible challenge to that notion.

The film “Race” that depicts the story of Jesse Owens and the Berlin Olympics in 1936 opened Friday night, unbeknownst to Tatum. No matter. He already knows how it turns out. He was there.

“One of the greatest experiences of my life,” he said Saturday from his home in the San Francisco bay area.

AFP/Getty Images

Jesse Owens in the long jump competition in the '36 Olympics in Berlin.

Tatum, now 95, was 16 in the summer of ’36, when his father sent him alone to Europe to see his brother and sister who were there at the time.

“I was there in the stadium, by myself,” Tatum said. “Just me. Boy, do I remember. It certainly had an impact on me on various levels. One of them was that there were probably 100,000 people in that stadium, roughly 80,000 of them Germans. Adolf Hitler turned up every afternoon at four o’clock. He briefly stood in front of the throne, maybe the 10th row, midfield, and the place went absolutely dead silent. Then he would raise his arm and say, ‘Sig heil,’ and the place would go absolutely nuts. It was a wakeup call for me, with what was going on in this area.

“In any event, I was so taken with Jesse Owens and the way in which he behaved and the way in which he performed. I had a very strong sense of what a privilege it was to see this gentlemen.”

Tatum saw Owens win the long jump competition, the second of four gold medals he won in what was a rebuke to Hitler’s notion of an Aryan master race.

“As I recall, he ran with fairly short steps, but, boy, how he moved. He took off in a way that so so compelling it was like he had wings.”

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