"The Olympic Spirit is neither the property of one race nor of one age."
- Baron Pierre de Coubertin
1968 Mexico City
The 1968 Olympic Games were held in Mexico City, Mexico. These Games are now most commonly known for the African-American protest, when two black athletes used a medal ceremony to protest the lack of civil rights in America. This was the first time the issue was able to be addressed to such a large audience.
One of the greatest sprinters in the world in 1968 was Tommy Smith. In the 200 meters, Smith won the gold medal with a time of 19.8 seconds that tied the world record. John Carlos, an equally exceptional athlete took, the bronze medal. As both men climbed the medals podium, it became clear that they were wearing one black glove each; Smith on his right hand, Carlos on his left. After receiving their medals, both men raised their gloved hand into the air in a Black Power salute. This salute was seen by tens of millions of people watching the Olympics world-wide.
As a result, both men were suspended by the American Olympic Committee and ordered to leave Mexico City. When the pair returned to America they were viewed as heroes by the African-American community.
Steve Holman was a 1992 Olympian and was the fastest United States mile runner for five years in the early 1990s. He wrote an extensive tribute to Tommy Smith and John Carlos, from which the following is an excerpt.
After the athletes had received their medals and The Star Spangled Banner began, Smith and Carlos thrust their gloved fists skyward, and bowed their heads. I was not born until over a year and a half after that fateful evening, but I have long been profoundly inspired by Smith's and Carlos' courageous stand, and have attempted to model my own atletic career on their example. On this 30th anniversary, I would like to honor these African-American men by not only remembering their bravery and personal sacrifice, but also by examining the issues that motivated their protest, issues that continue to be relevant in America. Being an African-American athlete in America has long been both a blessing and a contradiction. It is possible on any given day to be idolized for our sporting ability, yet discriminated against, due to the color of our skin. This paradox exists though most Americans, African-American and white alike, prefer to believe that sports simply represent an oasis of racial progress and harmony; The need for athletes to organize and address these inequities is greater than ever, yet the likelihood remote. Anyone attempting to speak candidly about the racial divide in America is immediately accused of being divisive, or unnecessarily bringing up the past. About America, W.E.B. Dubois said "the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line. If there is any hope of altering our narrative in the 21st century, we all must accept our responsibility to recognize and fight injustice and inequality in our daily lives." That is what America should remember and honor 30 years later: the rare courage of Smith and Carlos to use their athletic excellence to stand for something larger than themselves, to strive to make our society a better, fairer place.