1968, the year that changed the world? This was a topic we were discussing in school this week, and one of the events we brought up was the student protest at the 1968 Olympics, however my research on that lead me to a much more interesting story, one that changed sports history.

Carlos and Smith at the 200 meter dash in 1968

To set the scene a little, the 1960s were an intense decade, with the Cold War, Vietnam War, peace and love movement, and the Black Power Movement. It was because of the black power movement, that sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith made Olympics history, for an open protest on the podium. Both Smith and Carlos were part of an organization called OPHR (Olympic Project for Human Rights), and had actually originally considered boycotting the Olympics for various reasons, but decided a display of protest at the actual Olympics would raise much more awareness to their cause. 

 Carlos who finished first, and Smith who came third in the 200 meter dash went to the podium with no shoes to represent the Poverty African Americans faced in the US, a badge for human rights (which the Second place medalist Peter Norman also wore in support), and a black gloved hand which they raised in the Black Power Fist during the American national anthem. This was the first very public and official protest in modern Olympic times, and caused and absolute outrage. All three medalists were banned for the Olympics, and Carlos and Smith received much hate from white Americans and Olympic officials. The IOC president Avery Brundage in particular said many hateful things about both of the athletes.

Carlos and Smith at the Whitehouse in 2016

After many years of their athletic careers suffering Carlos and Smith were finally recognized by president Barack Obama in 2016. This protest was revolutionary in sports history, it showcased the anger in the world at the time, in a way that couldn’t be silenced. It also went on to inspire the 1972 Olympics protest as well. In 2020 the IOC has finally put in rules allowing athletes to peacefully protest without fear of being banned from the Olympics, and they no doubt have Smith and Carlos to thank for that. 

Thank you for checking out my blog today and for taking the time to learn about that amazing snippet of history.