Olympic Memories: 1968

Tommie Smith & John Carlos...Two black athletes risked everything in 1968 to deliver a salute that shook the world...

Tommie Smith and John Carlos finished first and third in the 200 metres final at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, but it was their public protest during the medal ceremony that attracted attention. With heads bowed and wearing black socks and gloves, the duo each raised a fist to symbolise black power and unity at a time when the struggle for civil rights in the US was at its height. The athletes were suspended by the IOC, which saw the actions as a domestic political statement not befitting the Olympic Games. Smith said that "black America will understand what we did tonight", but the wider reaction to their actions was unprecedented, overshadowing the race itself, in which Smith (below) set a new world record of 19.83sec. While the two African-Americans encountered a large amount of hostility and resentment in the aftermath of the incident, second-placed Australian Peter Norman was also criticised for joining the protest, wearing a human rights badge. After being reprimanded by his own Olympic Committee, he was overlooked for selection for the Munich Games four years later, in spite of qualifying. He died in 2006, with Smith and Carlos among the pall-bearers at his funeral.

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