Jesse Owens "Race"
Focus Films

Stephan James discusses playing Jesse Owens in ‘Race’

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NEW YORK — Stephan James feels like a member of the Owens family after submerging himself in research, training and learning from the daughters and granddaughters of legendary Olympic sprinter Jesse Owens for the film “Race,” which hits theaters Feb. 19.

James, a 22-year-old Canadian, said he spent two months doing track workouts at Georgia Tech ahead of film shooting, partially at the Berlin Olympic Stadium, site of the 1936 Games where Owens won four gold medals in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

James also worked with Hank Palmer, a Canadian Olympic 4x100m relay sprinter at Beijing 2008.

James sat down with OlympicTalk at the NYRR Millrose Games Trials at The Armory in Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon.

OlympicTalk: What was your initial reaction when you found out you would be playing Jesse Owens?

JAMES: I was speechless, just like I am every time I’m reminded that I’ve done it. When you get a call to audition to play one of the greatest athletes ever, somebody who’s a hero the world over, it’s an incredible opportunity. Obviously, I was extremely elated.

OlympicTalk: How did you research for the role?

JAMES: You look at 1936 and that whole time, there’s not a whole lot documented from Jesse, or from that time. Luckily enough, a filmmaker named Leni Riefenstahl made a film about the 1936 Games called “Olympia”. So I was able to use that, sort of, in my research and some other clips I had seen of Jesse speaking in interviews after his races, so I could get a feel of the type of person he was, how he spoke, how he carried himself. Like I said, 1936, there’s only so many YouTube clips you can find on his running. But I took all that I could, along with my training regimen.

Leni Riefenstahl was fascinated with Jesse, so he was prominently featured over the course of the film.

Editor’s Note: Angelina Jolie also made use of “Olympia” in researching for “Unbroken,” the 2014 film on 1936 U.S. Olympic runner Louis Zamperini. More from OlympicTalk’s interview with Jolie here.

OlympicTalk: What interaction did you have with Owens’ family?

JAMES: [Owens’ daughters] have been instrumental in the whole film-making process, pretty much from the beginning. They were helpful in telling me about the type of man their father was, what type of father he was, so I could get a feel for him. We spent a lot of time together. They hung out on set when we were out in Berlin shooting. Even now, we still hang out. We’re like a family. I’m like a part of the Owens family, honorary member.

OlympicTalk: What was the most interesting part of filming in Berlin?

JAMES: Just to go there, honestly, and see how many people still remembered and loved Jesse. You go into the Olympic Stadium, which is still there, and you go onto the floor, and they’ve got a lounge called the Jesse Owens Lounge on the third floor, and his photos are just all over the place. The street that the stadium is on is called Jesse Owens Allee.

OlympicTalk: Did you have any background in track and field?

JAMES: Not really, no. I’ve been an athlete, basketball and volleyball. I’m familiar with athletics, but track and field is something I had to really dig my feet into and then learn how to do things like how Jesse did it specifically, a whole ‘nother ball game.

OlympicTalk: What were Owens’ daughters reactions after they saw the film?

JAMES: They were lovely and gracious, and they told me that they really admired the way that I portrayed their father. To me, that means the most. Jesse’s obviously not here to see the film, but to have his daughters there and have them react and accept the film the way they have, it’s been wonderful.

OlympicTalk: You’re obviously an Owens expert now. Tell me something track fans might not know about him.

JAMES: Jesse’s so much bigger than an athlete. I tell people that all the time. When I first took on this role, I approached it from a really human perspective, because I wanted to show people the type of humanitarian he was. Very, very loving human being and a person who always treated people as he wanted to be treated. Other than that, he loved to dress. He was very fashionable. He loved to get dressed up and to smell good. That’s something I learned from his daughters.

MORE: Watch full ‘Race’ trailer

Kristoffersen topples Hirscher to win giant slalom at worlds

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ARE, Sweden — Norwegian skiing is in safe hands, even with its beloved king now in retirement.

Henrik Kristoffersen gave Norway its second individual gold medal of the world championships by toppling an under-the-weather Marcel Hirscher to win the giant slalom on Friday.

With Kjetil Jansrud also victorious in the downhill last week, Norway appears in great shape heading into the post-Aksel Lund Svindal era.

Svindal signed off his illustrious career with a silver medal behind Jansrud in the downhill, and said he was leaving behind a strong generation of Norwegian skiing talent.

Kristoffersen is at the forefront of that — especially now that he has ended his long wait for a medal at a world championship.

The 24-year-old Kristoffersen had finished fourth in his last three races at the worlds — the giant slalom and slalom in 2017 and the slalom in 2015 — and headed into his second run of the GS in third place behind leader Alexis Pinturault and Hirscher, the favorite and one of skiing’s all-time greats.

However, Kristoffersen produced an aggressive run under the lights, his speed and flow particularly apparent in the bottom section, to win by 0.20 seconds over Hirscher. Pinturault won the bronze medal, 0.42 seconds back.

“It was about time to get a medal,” said Kristoffersen, who wasn’t necessarily expecting it to come in GS.

Kristoffersen’s last win in the discipline came at Meribel in 2015 and he has been consistently behind Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup winner and defending Olympic and world GS champion. He finished second to Hirscher at last year’s Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Kristoffersen was without a win in any discipline for a year but said he gained confidence from the course being doused with salt to maintain the snow surface amid unseasonably warm weather. The temperature in Are for the first leg was 8 C (46 F).

“There’s no one that skis on salt as much as Norwegians do,” he said. “Even though I haven’t trained on salt in GS in a long, long time, I have it from childhood.”

Hirscher’s preparations for the race were affected by a bout of flu that kept him in bed for much of the past two days. He acknowledged after the race that the likelihood of him lining up on the starting gate wasn’t high on Thursday.

“Normally,” Hirscher said, “if you have regular work on those days, you normally tell your boss I’m done for the day.”

Yet he managed to be only 0.10 seconds behind Pinturault after an error-free first run, keeping Hirscher on course for a record-tying seventh gold medal at the worlds. But he went wide at two gates in the top section of his second run, causing him to lose 0.41 seconds on Kristoffersen in the middle section.

“Second place is the first loser but Henrik had an amazing day with two great runs,” Hirscher said. “Henrik is at the top for such a long time. He was more than ready for a world title.”

Hirscher, who was noticeably sniffing after the race, added that he was “looking forward to getting back to bed again” to rest up ahead of Sunday’s slalom.

When Pinturault crossed the finish line in third place, Kristoffersen clenched his fists before walking into the finish area, crouching on one knee and acknowledging the jubilant Norwegian fans in the grandstand.

For Pinturault, it was his second medal of the championships after winning the Alpine combined on Monday.

Wesenberg wins first U.S. skeleton World Cup medal in two years

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With a bronze medal in Lake Placid earlier today, Kendall Wesenberg became the first American to reach the World Cup podium in skeleton in two years.

Wesenberg, who finished 17th at her first Olympics in PyeongChang, had a combined time of 1:51.10 in Lake Placid. Prior to today, her last podium finish at the World Cup was in St. Moritz in January 2017.

“This has never been my strongest track, so we really broke it down piece by piece, and I think it paid off,” Wesenberg said, according to USA Bobsled and Skeleton. “The second run, I kind of tried to throw it away at the top there. By the time I made it to corner 10, I was just thinking ‘build speed, build speed.”

Wesenberg, 28, grew up in California’s Central Valley, but her interest in sliding sports piqued while watching the 2010 Vancouver Games. When the commentators discussed the athletic backgrounds of the athletes, Wesenberg realized she played some of the same sports growing up. A quick Google search brought her to the USA Bobsled and Skeleton page. She told her siblings she was thinking of trying skeleton. They said she’d never do it. Challenge accepted.

Wesenberg emailed a U.S. coach and signed up for a combine and driving training in January 2011. Seven years later, she was sliding on Olympic ice.

Sliding coverage continues today on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, with women’s bobsled live at 3:15 p.m. ET and men’s bobsled live at 4:15.