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Who is the Man in the Middle?


We all recognize the athlete on the left side of this picture, in my opinion the most iconic track and field athlete of all time, his single day performance at the Big Ten meet in Ann Arbor on May 25th, 1935 unequaled almost ninety years later.


In the span of forty-five minutes he set five world records (four of the WR within the same two races) and tied a sixth - all with a sore back which almost stopped him from competing that day.


3:15pm 100 yd dash - 9.4 tied the WR

3:25pm Long jump - 8.13 WR

3:34pm 220 yd & 200m dash - 20.3 WR

4:00pm 220 yd & 200m low hurdles - 22.6 WR


Although your eyes are drawn to Jesse Owens, the one in the center of the picture was my college coach at Iowa, Francis X. Cretzmeyer, the man whom the University of Iowa track is named after. He always had great stories and to this day I still remember sitting in his office in between classes, shocked when he told me he competed against Jesse many times.


In fact, he told me about standing to the side of the broad jump (that's what it was called back then) runway after completing three jumps, cheering his Ohio State friend as the Buckeye took his first and only leap, Cretz realizing as Jesse landed in the pit that he was now a place lower.


"We were in many of the same events, and in four years I'd never beaten Jesse."


Thirty-five minutes later they were in the 220 yard low hurdles, Cretz lined up in lane four with the fastest qualifying time, the Buckeye in lane five, my college coach knowing this was Jesse's worst event and the bespeckled Hawkeye's best. Maybe I can beat him today.


Although Cretz didn't know it when he crossed the finish line, my former coach broke the world record in the low hurdles, turning in a 22.9 - a personal record by 0.3 seconds. You would have expected him to be quite thrilled running so fast, and he was, but there was a catch.


"Jesse ran 22.6."


To think that Cretz broke the world record and still didn't win is hard to fathom. Especially when I know that Jesse competed that day with a bad back, it was his fourth event in just forty-five minutes, and that he rarely ran the hurdles - only his coach's plea earlier that week getting him to try.


Cretz introduced me to Jesse Owens forty-three years after that iconic day, the pair swapping stories from bar stools in the Hotel Fort Des Moines after a long day at the Drake Relays, both enjoying a beverage and cigarette.


It was a highlight of my life to meet the man. I wanted to ask him of memories that day at Ferry Field but never did, certain he had been asked a million times before. Maybe I'm a little biased when I say that his effort at the Big Ten meet was the performance of the 20th century - but you'll never be able to convince me I'm wrong. Because it was!



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