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Why Jesse Owens Came To Idaho And Raced Against A Horse

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Courtesy Twin Falls County Fair Board
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Jesse Owens at the Twin Falls County Fairgrounds in September 1938.

So, Jesse Owens came to Twin Falls for a race in 1938 … against a horse. Yes, the Jesse Owens you learned about in history class who humiliated Hitler by dominating the 1936 Berlin Olympics. According to the Twin Falls Times-News Hidden History column, Owens was at the Southern Idaho Fair (now the Twin Falls County Fair) for a simple reason: money.

Life was not easy for a black man in America in the 30s, even one considered a national hero. Despite his fame and unmatched athletic prowess, Owens struggled to make a living. So he used that fame as best he could. He traveled the country and made paid appearances at events like baseball games and fairs. Racing horses was part of that.

The Times-News quotes a 1971 interview with Owens.

“People said it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse,” Owens said. “But what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can’t eat four gold medals.”

The Times-News does not reveal the result of Owens’ Twin Falls race. 

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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