1968: the supporting cast

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I gather that a British trade union is in negotiations with John Carlos of John Carlos and Tommie Smith fame to see if Carlos can come over to London and speak here in the run up to this summer’s Olympics.

This is a good opportunity to record the support that Carlos and Smith received from a small group of anti-racist white Olympians.

Those who did support Carlos and Smith, it must be acknowledged, were a minority. They were booed when they gave the salute, and half-expected to be shot. Avery Brundage the President of the IOC intimated to the press that their medals would be taken away (they weren’t). After the killings of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Bundage explained the murders in terms of the rise of black militant politics, which had informed not just Carlos and Smith’s actions but the ban on countries practising apartheid sport (ie South Africa and Rhodesia), whose exclusion Avery had strongly opposed.

But two athletes in particular bucked the trend; one was Peter Norman, the “third man” on the podium, who wore the badge of Carlos and Smith’s Olympic Project for Human Rights. Norman was banned for two years by the Australian authorities and despite repeatedly running the 100m and 200m qualifying times, was not selected for the 1972 Olympics. For the first time in 76 years, Australia refused to send any male sprinters to that year’s games. Norman’s story is at the heart of the film ‘Salute’ (poster above).

The other white athlete to mention, is Paul Hoffman, cox of the American rowing eight, who provided Norman with the OPHR badge. As Carlos describes in his book, the eight, who were Harvard students, consistently supported their campaign. It was 1968, and even the Olympics were changed.

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