The Reuters global sports blog
Tommie Smith in retirement is relaxed and friendly. He speaks without rancour of the harsh years after he outraged white America by raising a black-gloved fist and bowing his head on the victory podium at the 1968 Olympics in protest at his country’s treatment of its blacks.
Yet at the age of 64, the ex-athlete still finds it hard to believe he emerged alive from the Mexico City Games.
On the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration, Smith received a special award during an NBA game between the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns. He was asked if at any point during his silent
gesture he could have visualised the possibility of a black man as president.
“I didn’t think about what was possible or what wasn’t,” Smith replied. “I didn’t think getting off the podium was possible for me with all the death threats I had received.”
Smith’s paranoia was justified. In 1968 Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were shot dead. American cities burned as the black ghettos revolted and students rioted on the streets throughout the western world. It was also the year Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for a second term as president because of mounting opposition to the Vietnam war.
Smith has written in chilling detail of the long moments he stood on the podium praying he would not be shot after winning the 200 metres final in world record time.
Third-placed team mate John Carlos mirrored his protest by raising his left fist to produce one of the iconic images of the 1960s. Carlos was also convinced he would be shot.
“I was a long time on the podium,” Smith recalled in a recent telephone interview. “Martin Luther King was only on a balcony briefly.”
Smith even feared for a horrible few seconds that he had been shot during the semi-finals. (more…)