Former double world record holder Michael Johnson has hailed American sprinter Jesse Owens and not track and field’s reigning monarch Usain Bolt as the greatest athlete of all time.
Owens, who competed in the 1930’s, is widely regarded as one of the sport’s leading pioneers, competing in a time when the black race fought to be recognized as equal to whites in many countries, including his home nation the United States.
Owens claimed four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump events at the 1936 Olympic Games, in Berlin, Germany. By direct comparison Bolt has achieved twice as many gold medals over three consecutive Olympics, in Beijing, London and Rio, but Owens’ performance in Berlin, in front of German dictator Adolf Hitler was widely credited with dismissing the myth of the Aryan superman.
Owens is also credited with setting three world records and tying another in less than an hour at the 1935 Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Bolt, however, set five world records at the consecutive 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2009 Berlin World Championships.
“For me Jesse Owens is the greatest. No doubt, a lot of people feel that it is Usain Bolt and if there were five other people with me here, they might have differed. But for me it is Owens who is the greatest, personally speaking,” Johnson said, while attending the Laureus Sports award in Monaco where the Jamaica picked up a record-tying fourth award. The American was, however, quick to point out the Jamaican’s role in revolutionizing the sport.
“Undoubtedly, Bolt has redefined athletics and he is great for the competition.”
Meanwhie Bolt has said he believes the sport of athletics could benefit from an injection of personality and has encouraged athletes to show a bit more while on track.
In addition to his numerous exploits on the track the decorated Olympic and World Champion is known for being one of the most flamboyant athletes on the planet, an attribute many believe has served to be a major selling point for track and field over the last couple of years.
However, with Bolt set to retire from the sport following this year’s World Championships in London, concerns have also been raised that the sport will wane in popularity following the departure of its most charismatic figure. Bolt believes the impact could be lessened if athletes revealed themselves a bit more.
“I don’t want sprinters to change their personalities, but I always tell fellow sprinters that people enjoy your personality along with your performances,” Bolt said.
“I was telling (Andre) De Grasse the same thing. It’s no good being too quiet but it’ll be no good if he goes flat once I retire. Hopefully, they will listen to me and try to show their personalities a little more.”
The Canadian De Grasse is thought to be one of a handful of sprinters that could replace the Jamaican as the king of sprinting.