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4 days to Rio: The Black Power salute

Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested racial discrimination in 1968 (Wikipedia Commons).
1st August, 2016
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There have been so many great sports photographs taken over the years, but the black power salute in 1968 is one of the most recognised.

The Olympics, originally seen as a place where global politics are put to one side to focus on sport instead became the perfect avenue for two athletes to highlight a failure of domestic policy with the ongoing civil rights struggle in America.

Rather than protesting verbally, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos chose the medal ceremony to do a small action that represented so much suffering.

Smith won the 200 metres sprint in a world record time with Carlos coming third. Both men were supposed to raise their right arm in the proper way of delivering the black power salute, but John forgot his gloves.

It was Australian, Peter Norman, who finished second that suggested Smith lend Carlos his left-handed glove so the pair could do it on opposite arms.

Norman was fully supportive of the protest as he was not a fan of Australia’s White Australia policy and had empathy for the pair’s plight. Norman agreed to wear an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge with Carlos and Smith.

The fallout from the salute lasted many years. IOC President Avery Brundage was furious and had Carlos and Smith banned while threatening to expel the entire US track team at one stage.

Brundage apparently couldn’t see the double standards when it was pointed out that he had no problem with the politicised Nazi salute at the 1936 Olympics.

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It was rumoured that Peter Norman was harshly treated by Australian officials for supporting Carlos and Smith but the AOC website points to the fact that Norman was only cautioned and given tickets to attend other events. He also missed the 1972 Olympics due to injury not because of the events of 1968.

When the dust eventually settled the black power salute was applauded and all three men honoured for standing up for human rights.

The sheer disgust at the time though, proved that John Carlos and Tommie Smith were right to take a stand that day in Mexico City.

Sometimes politics is far more important than any sporting event. 1968 was the perfect example.

Be sure to follow The Roar as we look back on some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history – be they weird and wacky or brilliant and significant – and count down the days until the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.

The Roar’s countdown to the Rio Olympics

50 days to go: Australia’s first Olympian, Edwin Flack
49 days to go: Brazil capitulate at the 2012 Olympics
48 days to go: Blood in the water during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
47 days to go: Daniel Carroll, the man who won rugby gold with Australia and America
46 days to go: Margaret Abbott – the golfer who didn’t know she had won gold
45 days to go: Where did all the amateurs go?
44 days to go: Australia’s oarsome foursome
43 days to go: When Korea stood as one
42 Days to go: Oscar Swahn, the oldest Olympian
41 days to go: Edith Bosch – the Olympian not known for her medals
40 days to go: Jane Saville’s heartbreaking Sydney Olympics
39 days to go: Herb Elliot dominates in Rome 1960
38 days to go: Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer who might have beaten Ali
37 days to go: Betty Cuthbert steals the show in Melbourne
36 days to go: Jesse Owens’ heroic performance in Berlin
35 days to go: Eric the Eel steals Sydney’s heart
34 days to go: What happened to Cassius Clay’s gold medal?
33 days to go: Australia’s equestrian brilliance at Barcelona
32 days to go: The Olympic sports which are no longer with us
31 days to go: Debbie Flintoff-King wins on the line
30 days to go: The dominance of basketball’s Dream Team
29 days to go: Nadia Comenaci scores gymnastics’ first-ever perfect score
28 days to go: The man who stopped for a duck
27 days to go: The upset of the Sydney Olympics
26 days to go: Murray Rose’s scintilating Melbourne performance
25 days to go: Greg Louganis’ heroic comeback win
24 days to go: Fencing turns to duelling in Paris
23 days to go: Dawn Fraser’s flag-stealing shenanigans
22 days to go: The most prolific Olympic competitor
21 days to go: Duncan Armstrong’s underdog win in Seoul
20 days to go: Johnny Weissmuller: A brilliant swimmer and Hollywood actor
19 days to go: Majorie Jackson – the Lithgow Flash
18 days to go: Larisa Latynina, the most successful female Olympian
17 days to go: Dimitrios Loundras, the child who won an Olympic medal
16 days to go: Roy Jones Jr is robbed of an Olympic gold
15 days to go: Shane Gould’s superstar performance in Munich
14 days to go: The Kookaburras finally fly to the top of the world
13 days to go: Matthew Mitcham’s historic dive
12 days to go: Even Olympians are prone to the odd fail
11 days to go: Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon running in bare feet
10 days to go: Track cycling’s greatest rivalry
9 days to go: Kieran Perkins’ gold medal from lane eight
8 days to go: Sally Pearson’s awesome run in London
7 days to go: Mark Spitz’ perfect seven gold medals in ’72
6 days to go: Usain Bolt torches the field in Beijing
5 days to go: Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe help smash America’s 4x100m world record like a guitar
4 days to go: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant black power salute
3 days to go: Michael Phelps – the best to ever grace the Olympics
2 days to go: Cathy Freeman delivers with the weight of a country on her back
1 day to go: Ian Thorpe – Australia’s finest Olympian