Following in the footsteps of a giant

Jesse Owens’ remarkable athletics feats continue to resonate deeply with the stars of today, despite the years that have passed. From equalling Owens’ college records to aiming to replicate his extraordinary performance of winning four gold medals at a single Olympic Games, Jarrion Lawson and Tori Bowie still see the American hero as the benchmark in their sport.

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For any USA track and field star Jesse Owens is the bonafide target in the sky. For Jarrion Lawson and Tori Bowie, it is more personal than that.

On 10 June 2016 Lawson did something very few have done; he matched a Jesse Owens feat. The 22-year-old won the 100m, 200m and the long jump titles at the NCAA Championships, the first time anyone had done so since Owens in 1936.

Young athletes like me, who are aspiring to our dreams, he (Jesse Owens) gives us hope and gives us something to reach for and shows us there are no limits. Tori Bowie - Tori Bowie

“It is great just to know I have stepped over some boundaries that only one other man has accomplished, to put my name in the same sentence as this gentleman,” Lawson said.

Like many athletes in the USA and worldwide, Lawson had Owens’ myriad of exploits on his radar for some time.

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“I think it was one of my coaches back in high school, one of my older coaches who used to tell us stories about past athletes and history, one of them always used to talk about how Jesse Owens accomplished such a great feat in America and in the Olympics,” Lawson explained.

Naturally, the enormity of equalling the exploits of one of his heroes took some time to sink in.

“It took me a while down there, after the 200m (his final event of the three), about a day, to realise what I had done, everybody telling me ‘you did this, you did that’,” said Lawson.

“Of course the media was saying ‘It was a Jesse Owens performance’ but of course he did the 200 hurdles back then also.”

Owens was indeed a world record holder in the 220 yard low hurdles and the 200m low hurdles, an accomplishment that blows the multitalented Lawson’s mind. In fact, the Texan, who went on to finish an agonising fourth in the long jump at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with only a trailing left fingertip brushing the sand and preventing him from snatching gold in the final round, had Owens’ exploits fresh in his mind before the NCAA Championships.

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“I had actually watched his movie (the Hollywood biopic Race starring Stephan James and Jason Sudeikis) a couple of weeks before that performance but it was nowhere on my mind that I was doing the same events and I could possibly match him,” Lawson laughed.

Match him he did and thanks to the confidence that came with it, the 22-year-old has now set his sights on Owens’ most famous feat.

“To have the opportunity to compete in four events for the USA team – that alone is an accomplishment. My dream is to get there (Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games) and take some medals back in all events,” he said.

Compatriot Tori Bowie is aiming to join Lawson as a four-time Tokyo 2020 medallist. The Rio 2016 Olympic Games 100m silver, 200m bronze and 4x100m relay gold medallist is returning to the long jump in 2017. The former NCAA long jump champion has always loved the discipline.

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“I plan to do long jump at the World Championships. Of course I would love to have a gold in the 100m, considering being crowned the title of fastest women in the world, for that year you know. But I wouldn’t mind having my first gold medal in the long jump,” laughed Bowie.

The 26-year-old also revealed another string to her bow for the 2017 season.

“I feel like I have a lot of potential going in to Tokyo (2020 Olympic Games), considering I now have the 400m as well,” she said.

Although the 400m is primarily to increase her strength for the 200m and take her out of her comfort zone, she has not ruled out adding it to her schedule in Tokyo.

“I wish I knew right now,” Bowie said when asked which of her myriad of events she would target for the next Games. “I am training for all four. I have a few events to play around with before Tokyo.”

Not that the Mississippi native thinks it will be easy to replicate the success of Owens.

“When I think about four events my mouth just drops and my eyes widen, I am like ‘Oh my God that’s a lot’ because I only did two (individual) events at the Olympics and I was exhausted, so to think about all four…” she said.

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“Young athletes like me, who are aspiring to our dreams, he (Jesse Owens) gives us hope and gives us something to reach for and shows us there are no limits.”

A fitting tribute to a man whose remarkable performances have defiantly stood the test of time.