What do you like about Olympia WA

50 years of Black Power at the Olympics - the unknown third

When the American national anthem sounds, it suddenly falls silent in the stands of the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City.

At noon on October 16, 1968, hundreds of thousands of people looked excitedly at the three men on the white podium. It is her Olympic victory over 200 meters. It's the moment that athletes have been working towards for years. It's the high point of her career and it's also the end of her career.

The gold medal shines on the American Tommie Smith's dark tracksuit. With 19.83 seconds over 200 meters, he was the first sprinter to break the magic limit of 20 seconds on that day. His compatriot, John Carlos, on the podium to his left, wears the bronze medal around his neck.

Peter Norman, the hitherto unknown Australian in a green tracksuit, narrowly defeated the favorite Carlos that day with a time of 20.06 seconds and surprisingly finished second. "It was the race of his life," says his nephew Matt Norman of the German press agency.

The hymn has been resounding through the loudspeakers over the green stadium lawn for a few seconds. Then suddenly something happens that viewers, reporters and sports officials have not expected: Smith and Carlos stretch their fists in black leather gloves towards the sky. It is a sign of protest against discrimination against blacks in the US in politics, society and sports, a gesture that will become the symbol of the civil rights movement in the US.

But the Australian Peter Norman is also part of the protest, albeit less obviously: During the award ceremony, he wears a small pin on his left chest that reads: “Olympic Project for Human Rights”. It is the name of an organization that campaigns against racism in sport before the Olympic Games with the aim of boycotting the Games. The boycott fails, but the idea of ​​setting an example remains.

Shortly before the award ceremony, the three athletes decided to use the award ceremony for their protest, even though the International Olympic Committee had expressly forbidden protests before the games and announced severe penalties. That's what the athletes tell in Matt Norman's 2008 documentary “Salute”. Looking back, Peter Norman says he was meant for this moment: “The reason the three of us were here together was to make this statement that day . "

The sixties are politically and socially troubled times, and not just in the USA. In Norman's native Australia, the state pursues a whites policy that denies the indigenous population the right to citizenship and to vote. Indigenous children are taken away from their families to be raised in white families. Later one speaks of a "stolen generation".

Norman, who grew up as a child in a religious working class family in a poor suburb of Melbourne, came into contact with different cultures and lifestyles at an early age. “I could never understand why someone would reject someone or hate someone to the extreme just because they were a different color,” Peter Norman said shortly before his death in 2006. “You like someone because you like someone and you don't because of his skin color. "

Just a few seconds after the black power salute, people in the stadium begin to whistle the athletes. "This moment divided my life into a before and an after," said Olympic champion Smith (74), according to the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" recently during a visit to Herzogenaurach. "I gave my life to this cause." But he has not regretted it.

The whistles show how poisoned the climate in society was back then. While Smith and Carlos are celebrated as heroes at least by civil rights activists and blacks in the USA, Norman gets little support back in Australia - on the contrary.

“I don't think that we fully understood what Peter had to do when he returned home,” Carlos says years later. Because although Norman, back in Australia, qualified several times for the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, he tells it in “Salute”, he is not allowed to take part. His career as a sprinter ended in one fell swoop. Peter Norman is certain that it has something to do with his protest against his country's politics.

"I think Peter's most impressive trait was the fact that he was never angry," says his nephew today. Peter Norman never said anything negative about the Australian Sports Authority or about how much rejection he had received in Australia. That still makes him a role model 50 years later. "I think it is now more important than ever for young people to take a stand against injustice, especially when it is not popular."

Years after his death, Peter Norman was still honored: in June of this year, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) posthumously awarded him the “Order of Merit”, the AOC's highest order of merit. In support of the decision, the committee said that not only should Norman's sporting achievements be recognized - but also his support for Tommie Smith and John Carlos 50 years ago.