In 1936 Owens arrived in Berlin to compete for the United States in the Summer Olympics. Adolf Hitler was using the games to show the world a resurgent Nazi Germany. He and other government officials had high hopes German athletes would dominate the games with victories. Meanwhile, Nazi propaganda promoted concepts of "Aryan" racial superiority and depicted ethnic Africans as inferior.
Owens surprised many by winning four gold medals: On August 3, 1936 the 100 meter dash by defeating Ralph Metcalfe; on August 4, the long jump - after friendly and helpful advice from German competitor Lutz Long; on August 5, the 200 meter dash; and, after he was added to the 4 x 100 m relay team, he won his fourth on August 9 (his performance wasn't duplicated until 1984 when Carl Lewis won gold medals in the same events at the 1984 Summer Olympics).
On the first day, Hitler shook hands only with the German victors and then left the stadium (some claim this was to avoid having to shake hands with Cornelius Johnson, who was African-American, but according to a spokesman Hitler's exit had been pre-scheduled). Olympic committee officials then insisted Hitler greet each and every medalist or none at all. Hitler opted for the latter and skipped all further medal presentations.
(Read more about Jesse Owens.)