Like Jesse Owens, Man 'o War was fast. He loved to run and he loved to win. Unlike Jesse Owens – or Louise Stokes or Usain Bolt – Man o’ War was a horse, but one more human in will and determination. And no animal in the history of sports – before or since – has been compared to the greatest human athletes as often as he has.
Man o’ War’s original breeder, August Belmont (yes, of The Belmont Stakes fame), had high hopes for the fiery chestnut colt that kicked and fought with his handlers from his birth in 1917. But global events conspired against their partnership. At age 65, August volunteered to serve the US Army in WWI.
August’s wife named Man o' War in honor of her husband and the armed effort overseas. But wartime brought money trouble. The Belmont’s sold their entire 1918 yearling crop to make ends meet. Man o’ War went to the highest bidder: Samuel Riddle walked away with the offspring of champions for only $5,000. It was the greatest deal in the history of thoroughbred horse racing.
He grew up in a society that deliberately separated blacks and whites while claiming they were equal. In reality, he and other African-Americans had few rights and even fewer opportunities. Despite this, our hero reached for the stars and achieved them… four times in a row! In so doing, he found acceptance -- albeit briefly -- in an unlikely place, offering hope that equality might one day become reality even in the United States.
The grandson of slaves, Jesse Owens and his parents joined the "great northward migration" of Southern blacks, fleeing the increasing threat of lynching by Southern whites. They landed in Ohio in 1922. Jesse was not quite 10 years old.
In secondary school, Jesse’s passion for running and jumping earned him a scholarship to Ohio State University. He won award after award for the Buckeyes, earning him the nickname: "Buckeye Bullet." Yet because of the color of his skin, when he traveled with the team, he could not enter restaurants or stay in the same hotel as his white mates. It didn't matter that he was their star performer. In Jim Crow America, “separate but equal" held sway, even in the North.
On May 25, 1935, Jesse set three world records for running and the long jump in a single day. This made him a shoe-in to represent the US at the 1936 Olympic Games. But there was a catch: the Games were being hosted in Berlin that year, no the capital of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.
Imagine this: You're one of the best athletes in the world. You train and you train and you qualify to represent your nation in the Olympic Games. You raise the money to afford the travel costs just to get there -- the next step in the long journey toward the gold. But when you arrive, you find you've been replaced by an athlete who didn't qualify because her skin color is less offensive to the fans than yours.
Now, imagine that happening to you twice.
This is a true story. It's the story of Louise Stokes.
Even as a child, Louise was fast. By the time she was 15, in 1928, she dominated the track team at her high school in Malden, Massachusetts. She was unbeatable. An all-rounder, she was also star center of the school basketball team. And she still made time to sing with her church choir.
Though Louise was black, her high school leadership team saw past the color of her skin, for she was a tremendously talented athlete: a true natural. By the time she graduated, Louise had set the New England record for the 100-meter dash. She'd also tied the world's highest standing broad jump when she leapt 8 feet, 5 inches (more than 2 1/2 meters) into the air. When the International Olympic Committee announced not long after that they would include women's track and field events at the 1932 Los Angeles Games, hope ignited in the heart of Louise Stokes.
Muhammad Ali spent his life not counting the days, but making them count.
On February 25, 1964, a little-known 22-year-old boxer named Cassius Clay entered the ring in Miami Beach to face Sonny Liston, the reigning heavyweight-boxing champion. Clay was a fast-talking, brash young man. No one believed he stood a chance. Yet Clay gracefully dodged Liston's blow after blow until the larger man gave up in Round 7.
Clay rushed to the ropes declaring, "I am the champion of the world."
Cassius Clay was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942. Like many young black men growing up the US's racially segregated south, Clay had few options. He turned to sports, becoming an amateur boxer by the age of 12. Even then, he was determined to excel in a world stacked against him.
Jackie Robinson wasn't just any great athlete. He was a hero because he stood up for what was right, even in the face of hate.
Before Jackie Robinson ever went to bat for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 at Ebbets Field, several of his Major League Baseball teammates threatened to strike. When he finally stepped up to the plate, in front more than 25,000 spectators, his team’s own fans booed and shouted blood-curdling insults. Many echoed a player, who, egged on by his manager, shouted at the 28-year-old rookie:
“Why don’t you go back to the cottonfield where you belong?”
The venom arose from the fact that Jackie was black. And for 60 years, since it began, Major League Baseball had been an all-white sport. That was about to change, for in 1945 Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Dodgers, recruited a brilliant young black player he knew would carry the Brooklyn Dodgers to glory.
It was 1973, the age of feminism. Women were burning bras and dumping their false eyelashes and high heels into the "freedom trash can." What’s more, they were demanding equal pay for equal work and equal attention in professional athletics.
Retired tennis champion Bobby Riggs assumed the role of male resistance. Never before had a man faced a woman in singles tennis. That was about to change: Riggs challenged Billie Jean King to a dual. Their confrontation on the court would become a global event.
On September 20, 1973, Bobby Riggs met Billie Jean King for the “battle of the sexes.” Ninety million people worldwide tuned in to watch.