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Billionaire Pays Nearly $1.5 Million for Jesse Owens’ Gold Medal

Billionaire Ron Burkle purchased one of Jesse Owens’ gold medals at an auction.

By Frederick H. Lowe

The auction of one of Jesse Owens’ gold medals from the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, pulled in a record amount of gold.

SCP Auctions, which is based in Laguna Niguel, Calif., reported on Saturday, when the auction ended, that Ron Burkle, a billionaire investor and owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League, was the top bidder, paying approximately $1,466,574 million for the gold medal.

Thirty bids were submitted for the gold medal, one of four Owens won in 1936. He won in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the long jump and as a member of 4×100-meter relay team, which set a world record of 39.8 seconds. Owens also set a record in the long jump of 26 feet, 8 inches.

He gave one of the medals to his friend, actor and dancer, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who helped Owens find work when he returned to the United States. Robinson starred with Shirley Temple in “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” and with Lena Horne in “Stormy Weather.”

During a segment of the “This Is Your Life” television program in 1960, Owens called Robinson, who died in 1949, a great friend. The medal Owens gave Robinson is not related to a specific sport.

The medal was sold by the estate of Robinson’s late widow, Elaine Plaines-Robinson.

The remaining three medals are on display at Ohio State University as part of the Jesse Owens exhibit. Owens attended Ohio State.

Owens was treated like a hero in Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler, Germany’s chancellor, stood up and waved at Owens, and he returned the leader’s wave.

In the United States, it was a different story, President Franklin D. Roosevelt snubbed Owens. Roosevelt never invited Owens to the White House because the president was afraid that if he were seen shaking hands with a black man, he would lose the white southern vote. President Harry S. Truman also ignored Owens.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to acknowledge Owens’ amazing feat, winning gold medals in four different events in the 1936 Olympics. Ike named Owens ambassador of sports in 1955.

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