As we watch great athletes like Usain Bolt and Jessica Ennis, we Remember the Golden Moments of the Past
The 2012 Olympic Games have been packed full of inspiring stories, but there are some stories from the Olympics over the years that will be remembered forever. Of those stories, one of the most inspiring of all time took place at the 1968 Olympics when African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, together with Australian Peter Norman, staged a heroic political statement at the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City.
On 16th October 1968, Tommie Smith won the 200 metre race, setting a new world record time of 19.83 seconds. The silver medal went to Australian Peter Norman, who finished in 20.06 seconds, with bronze going to John Carlos who finished in 20.10. The race would not be the memorable moment of that Olympics. Rather, it was the medal ceremony that is etched in the annals of history. As we will see, where Usain Bolt’s running and Jessica Ennis’ all-round brilliance delight us, it is moments like those few minutes at the 1968 Olympic Games which define us.
At the medal ceremony, Smith and Carlos would represent black poverty by wearing block socks. Smith wore a black scarf to represent black pride. Carlos showed solidarity with blue collar workers by having his tracksuit unzipped. He also wore a necklace of beads which he stated, “were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and 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.”
Australian Norman would stand with Smith and Carlos, wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights badges. It was he, too, who created the image we now remember (below) by suggesting that Smith and Carlos share gloves, such that Carlos would raise a left hand in a black glove, and Carlos the right.
The crowd booed the three brave men. Later, Smith said, “If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”
So it was that one of the most beautiful, bravest and most famous moments in Olympic history came to be.
Jessica Ennis, Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and many other athletes at the London Olympics are inspiring the world with their amazing performances. But let us remember those brave men and women who, like Carlos, Smith and Norman, changed the world through their personal bravery. Surely for eternity do such men and women wear gold.