Four months after winning an unprecedented four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Jesse Owens found himself in Havana, Cuba, for a race that promoters were calling the "Race of the Century." This time, though, the heroic 23-year-old American sprinter was lined up against a horse as halftime entertainment at a Cuban soccer match. Owens was given a 40-yard (37 m) head start in the 100-yard (91 m) sprint, and when the gun went off to start the race, Julio McCaw hesitated before galloping toward the finishing line. Owens exploded from the blocks and ran a 9.9-second race, edging out his hard-charging, four-legged challenger.
A talented athlete, down on his luck:
- Soon after the 1936 Olympics, Owens lost his amateur status after accepting some lucrative endorsement deals. He would contend with economic uncertainty for the rest of his life.
- In the years following the "man vs. horse" stunt, Owens raced trains, cars, motorbikes, baseball players -- even a dog. “Those races made me sick,” Owens later said. “I felt like a freak.”
- Owens later ran a dry cleaning business and worked as a gas station attendant just to earn a living. He was a pack-a-day cigarette smoker for 35 years and died in 1980 at age 66, succumbing to an aggressive type of lung cancer.