When you look at this photo, what do you see?
Easy – two black guys from America on the Olympic podium, preparing to turn to face their flags and hear the American National Anthem.
They each raised a black-gloved fist and kept them raised until the anthem had finished.
Before you read
What do you think could be the story behind this salute?
What else do you see in the photo that could be relevant to the story?
Do you think that the white man had anything to do with the whole incident? Why?
What about the white guy?
Now, to the casual eye, the white guy may seem like he doesn’t belong in the picture. OK, you can see that he is the silver medallist, but aside from that, he isn’t wearing any black gloves, is he?
So, what’s more to see?
On the morning of 16 October 1968, US athlete Tommie Smith (in the centre) won the 200 meter race with a world-record time of 19.83 seconds. Australia’s Peter Norman (the white guy) finished second with a time of 20.06 seconds, and the US’ John Carlos (on the right) won third place with a time of 20.10 seconds. After the race was completed, the three went to the podium, where the two US athletes received their medals shoeless , but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty .
Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride, Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the US and wore a necklace of beads which he described “were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for.
What about the white guy?
The 200 metres at the 1968 Olympics started on 15 October and finished on 16 October; Norman won his heat in a time of 20.17 seconds which was briefly an Olympic record. He won his quarter final and was second in the semi .
On the morning of 16 October, U.S. athlete Tommie Smith won the 200 metre final with a world-record time of 19.83 seconds. Norman finished second in a time of 20.06 seconds, which was even faster than his previous personal and Australian record.
Salvation Army is an international organization that teaches Christianity and helps people with problems. It is organized like an army and is famous for its bands, which play in public.
They were all wearing human rights badges on their jackets.
After the final, Carlos and Smith had told Norman what they were planning to do during the ceremony. As Martin Flanagan wrote;
“They asked Norman if he believed in human rights. He said he did. They asked him if he believed in God. Norman, who came from a Salvation Army background, said he believed strongly in God.”
We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat. He said, ‘I’ll stand with you’.” Carlos said he expected to see fear in Norman’s eyes. He didn’t; “I saw love.” On the way out to the medal ceremony, Norman saw the OPHR badge being worn by Paul Hoffman, a white member of the US Rowing Team, and asked him if he could wear it.
It was Norman who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute, after Carlos had left his pair in the Olympic Village. This is the reason for Smith raising his right fist, while Carlos raised his left.
Sequence of tenses
We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat.
We know that what we are going to do is far greater than any athletic feat.
So, what happened next?
It was an act that scandalized the Olympics and after having been withdrawn from the relays and expelled from the Olympic Village, they were sent home in disgrace and banned from the Olympics for life. And though they were treated as returning heroes by the black community for sacrificing their personal glory for the cause, they received death threats, Carlos’ home was attacked, they had difficulty getting employment and Smith’s wife committed suicide. However, in the long run, history has been kind to them.
Peter Norman was also reprimanded by Australia’s Olympic authorities for his gesture and the Australian media ostracised him. Despite Norman running qualifying times for the 100m five times and 200m 13 times during 1971-72, the Australian Olympic track team did not send him, or any other male sprinters, to the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, the first modern Olympics since 1896 where no Australian sprinters participated.
Norman retired from athletics immediately after hearing he’d been cut from the Munich team. He would never return to the track. Neither would his achievements count for much 28 years later when Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympics, although he was the greatest Australian sprinter in history and the holder of the 200 meter record.
Why do you think all of them were banned from the Olympics for life?
Why do you think Norman wasn’t allowed to compete for Australia any more?
What does it all tell you about America, Australia and the whole world?
Have you heard of an act called: taking a knee?
As soon as the U.S. delegation discovered that Norman wasn’t going to attend, the United States Olympic Committee arranged to fly him to Sydney to be part of their delegation. He was invited to the birthday party of 200 and 400-meter runner Michael Johnson, where he was to be the guest of honor. Johnson took his hand, hugged him and declared that Norman was one of his biggest heroes.
In August 2012, the federal parliament debated a motion to provide an apology to Norman. The Australian Olympic Committee disputed the claims that Norman had been blacklisted or was excluded from the 1972 Olympics team. Regarding the 2000 Olympics, they said that no other former athletes had been invited to take part and that Norman was offered the same chance to buy tickets as others were. The AOC did not believe that Norman was owed an apology.
On 11 October 2012 the Australian Parliament passed an official apology stating that The House:
(1) recognises the extraordinary athletic achievements of the late Peter Norman, who won the silver medal in the 200 metres sprint running event at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, in a time of 20.06 seconds, which still stands as the Australian record;
(2) acknowledges the bravery of Peter Norman in donning an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the podium, in solidarity with African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who gave the ‘black power’ salute;
(3) apologises to Peter Norman for the wrong done by Australia in failing to send him to the 1972 Munich Olympics, despite repeatedly qualifying; and
(4) belatedly recognises the powerful role that Peter Norman played in furthering racial equality.
Third paragraph (3) was later changed into:
apologises to Peter Norman for the treatment he received upon his return to Australia, and the failure to fully recognise his inspirational role before his untimely death in 2006.
Who was that white guy, anyway?
Peter Norman grew up in a working-class district of Melbourne. As a youngster he couldn’t afford the kit to play Australian Rules Football, his favourite sport.
But his father managed to borrow a second-hand pair of running spikes , and his talent for sprinting was quickly recognized. Yet Norman was still an obscure pick when the 28-year-old arrived in the high altitude of Mexico City. It was the first time he had run on an Olympic standard track and one of those moments that should be retold time and time again.
“It has been said that sharing my silver medal with that incident on the victory dais detracted from my performance. On the contrary. I have to confess, I was rather proud to be part of it”.
When you look at this photo, what do you see?
A man, unjustly missing from the victory dais. Or maybe, it’s what our casual eye wants us to believe.
On 17 October 2003 San Jose State University unveiled a statue commemorating the 1968 Olympic protest; Norman was not included as part of the statue itself – his empty podium spot intended for others viewing the statue to “take a stand” – but was invited to deliver a speech at the ceremony.
The reason (if the previous sentence wasn’t clear enough) for Norman’s absence from the monument was because he requested that his space was left empty so visitors to the exhibit could stand in his place and feel what he had felt.
Norman died suddenly from a heart attack in 2006.
At his funeral Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Norman’s friends since that moment in 1968, were his pallbearers , sending him off as a hero and announcing that the U.S. Track and Field association had declared the day of his death to be “Peter Norman Day” – the first time in the organization’s history that such an honour had been bestowed on a foreign athlete.