Saturday, 23 August 2008

My favourite ever Olympic story


This iconic photo shows the medal ceremony following the men's 200 metres at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. The first and third place getters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, stand heads bowed and giving a Black Power salute. They wore no shoes to represent black poverty. Carlos had his top unzipped to express solidarity with America's blue collar workers, and wore beads to remember 'those individuals that were lynched, or killed that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage'. Their protest against racism saw Smith and Carlos expelled from the Games.

The athlete who stands in second place on the podium is an Australian guy called Peter Norman. As the three place getters prepared for the medals ceremony, Smith and Carlos discussed their planned protest. Norman asked how he could support them. Smith and Carlos asked Norman to wear the same badge as themselves, and he duly did: it read 'Olympic Project for Human Rights'. Carlos had left his black gloves at the Olympic village. It was Norman who suggested they share Smith's gloves: this is why Smith salutes with his right hand, and Carlos with his left.

Norman was reprimanded by the Australian Olympic authorities. When questioned by the world's media, he reiterated his support for Smith and Carlos, and declared that he was opposed to the White Australia policy of his own country. When he went home, his countrymen and women were less than admiring of Norman's stance on racial equality. He was widely ostracised by the Australian media, and passed over for selection for the 1972 games.

Although his sporting career was at an end, Norman continued to work for social justice, playing a committed role in the Australian union movement for twenty years. He suffered from a series of health problems, including depression and alcoholism. In 2006, he died of a heart attack at the age of 64. He still holds the Australian men's record for the 200 metres. (Despite this accomplishment, John Howard was criticised for showing noticably less interest in marking Norman's passing than he did Steve Irwin's.)

Tommie Smith and John Carlos attended Peter Norman's funeral. Both gave eulogies and were pallbearers. Carlos said of him, "... Peter never flinched. He never turned his eye or turned his head. He never turned to walk away from that day".

Take that, those who say that sport and politics don't mix!

10 comments:

Anna McM said...

I tried to hide the latter part of this, but it made the font go spazzy. What's wrong with me?

ideologicallyimpure said...

Well now I'm teary.

hungrymama said...

Ooooo that gave me chills

Macro said...

Great Post and very appropriate. Thank you for reminding me of this. It was a magical moment in sporting history.

Asher said...

There's a movie just been made about this by the nephew of Peter Norman:

http://www.salutethemovie.com

From the trailer, looks interesting.

I recall reading somewhere about Peter Norman not being invited to the Sydney Olympics by the Australian Olympic Committee, but the USA Committee invited him instead so he could attend.

Anna McM said...

Yes - I read the same thing about Peter Norman not being invited in 2000. Apparently, someone from the US team actually gave up his room at the Olympic village so that Norman and his wife could go.

I find the whole story really moving. I thought everyone might think I was a bit cheesy to post it - but obviously you share my feelings about it!

George Darroch said...

It's also worth noting that it wasn't a militant "Black Power salute", but a statement of humanity, according to Smith. Unfortunately, it suited the media, the US Olympic committee and the IOC to portray them as such, and it cost the men dearly.

Hugh said...

George, you say that like there's something wrong with militant black power.

George Darroch said...

Hugh, not at all.

Kelly said...

Thanks for posting that. I had seen the photo but hadn't heard any of the story behind it.