A raised arm, black power and Olympic trauma

Tommie Smith's salute is recalled in a new film

The veteran sprinter is reminiscing about just what it feels like to go to the blocks in an Olympic final. He makes it sound like a dead man's walk.

"It is certainly traumatic, it is certainly traumatic," the sprinter repeats the phrase. "You know, looking around, walking in a stadium is an experience that only those in the field can feel. You work all these years competing against some of the best people in the world and then you get to the final race. It goes beyond human imagination to the point where you forget where you are and you go back to your childhood, thinking 'how did I get here?' You look around at these world-class athletes and if you're not very careful, you can lose your race before you start by thinking everybody else is better than you are and what are you doing here?"

Whatever the state of his nerves, the sprinter in question ran an immaculate race. He whipped past the finishing line of the 200 metres final at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 in an astonishing time of 19.83 seconds.

Tommie Smith was 24 at the time, younger than Jamaican champion sprinter Usain Bolt is now. "Aged 24, my speed and Usain Bolt's speed were about the same," Smith says today. The assumption was that he would get even faster. However, when he and third-placed fellow African-American athlete John Carlos went to the podium, they raised their fists in a Black Power salute. The gesture caused outrage at the International Olympic Committee, which dubbed it a "violent breach" of the Olympic spirit. Smith and Carlos were vilified, as was the white Australian silver medallist Peter Norman (who supported their gesture.) The story of the friendship between the three men is told in the documentary Salute, shortly to be released in the UK.

"He [Norman] was a man of his word and a man of honesty." Smith pays tribute to the Australian sprinter. "He believed in rights for all men. He was a true friend and he went through some of the same things that Carlos and I did," Smith remembers of how all three men suffered because of their gesture in support of human rights. Norman didn't raise an arm but he wore an "Olympic Project For Human Rights Badge" –itself a defiant act – and he suggested that Carlos should wear Smith's left glove. As a result, he was ostracised by the Australian media and the country's Olympic selectors, who never picked him again.

After Mexico 1968, Smith's own Olympic career was over. If he is bitter about the way he was treated by the Olympic movement, he is not showing it. He relishes the friendships that the Olympics can help foster between athletes all over the world. However, he has no illusions about the machinations that go behind the scenes whenever the Games are staged.

"The politics of it is a different story. Those who contend that there are no politics in the Olympic Games are speaking with false tongues."

Ask him today if he has mixed feelings about that moment in 1968 when his salute effectively ended his athletics career and he replies: "I regret the fact that I had to do that to bring out the truth about a country that didn't honour the rights of its constitution."

No, he says today, he didn't know that making the Black Power salute was going to curtail his athletics career. "But had I known, it wouldn't have made any difference," he insists.

Would he have won more Olympic medals? He ponders the question. "I certainly would have run. I don't know if I would have been the fastest – but whoever was ahead of me would have been in trouble!"

'Salute' is released in cinemas on 13 July and DVD on 30 July

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?