With the London 2012 Olympics just around the corner it seems only appropriate to reflect back on the moments that exemplify the true spirit of the Olympic Games. One such moment rocked the 1968 Mexico Games and its effects rippled across the globe, sparking controversy and conversation with a single image. Tommie Smith and John Carlos (above) raised their clenched fists on the podium for the 200m sprint final medal presentation, in protest to the racial segregation, inequality, poverty and social injustices of African Americans back home. Standing along side them, in 2nd place on the podium, was Australian Olympic Athlete Peter Norman. Peter, was for his time, a very liberal minded individual, who’s salvation army upbringing taught him the realities of inequality and made him stand out in the era of “White Australian Policy”. Salute was created by Peter Norman’s filmmaker nephew, Matt Norman, who felt that the role of his uncle’s actions had been under-represented in Australia and was close to being erased from the history books.
The film sheds some light on the background story by using interviews with all the athletes and coaches surrounding the incident. Prior to the medal presentation Tommie and Carlos told Norman what they were about to do. He agreed with their intentions and much to their surprise, asked if he could join them in solidarity by wearing one of their “Olympic Project for Human Rights” badges – It would cost him his athletic career. He was vilified by the Australian media and public. And famously excluded from the 1972 Olympic team even though he was ranked 5th in the world, because he was now known for being a “trouble maker”. Smith and Carlos were barred from the US team and sent back to the States – Becoming heroes amongst African Americans, but suffering rejection from their government and sport.
All three men suffered the harsh consequences of their actions, and never fully recovered from the loss of their careers. The saving grace is that it’s humbling to see the three of them talk so fondly of each other – in one instances John Carlos states that he would willingly die for Peter Norman, which brings Norman to tears. Ironically you can witness the true Olympic spirit represented in their respect and love for one another even though they were expelled by the IOC for supposedly representing the exact opposite.You could argue that the Games should be apolitical, but in reality America was given a free pass, while a country like South Africa (also implementing racial segregation) was boycotted from the Games. With no other means to protest, you could also argue that it was necessary.
The film is released on Friday 13th July (UK)
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. [Tommie Smith]