Barry Davies' Olympic Moments: Black Power, Mexico 1968

By Barry DaviesOlympic Games broadcaster since Mexico 1968

In a 10-part series, BBC broadcaster Barry Davies recalls the most memorable Olympic moments of his 44 years on air from the Games.

There are two events I must include in any Olympic top 10 that had nothing to do with sport and everything to do with life.

We will come to the second, but the first of those is the Black Power salute that took place in Mexico City in 1968.

At the end of the men's 200m final, Tommie Smith - who had won it - and fellow black athlete John Carlos, who was third, each took to the podium wearing one black glove to indicate what was called 'Black Power'.

I thought it had a deal of humanity in the way it was done. It wasn't in any way extrovert or flamboyant, it was a quiet holding aloft of the arm with the black glove.

Smith, on top of the podium, wore his glove on the right hand while Carlos wore his on the left. It is said that Peter Norman, the white Australian who finished in second place, suggested they do it that way because Carlos, who was supposed to come with a pair of gloves, had forgotten his so they only had Smith's.

At the time, an awful lot of people looked upon their protest as being something quite disgusting - nobody more so than the International Olympic Committee president of the time, Avery Brundage, who said that politics had been brought into the Olympics and there was no place for it.

I think that view was very questionable. I think it was about humanity, a couple of black guys saying: when we get home, we won't necessarily be greeted as heroes in the same way that Peter Norman would have been if he had won and then gone back to Australia.

Norman suffered for it, too - he was seen to support the protest and was ostracised. Many years later, Norman died early having never really, it seems, recovered from that. Two of his pallbearers were Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

They were ostracised too, back in the United States. Brundage tried to force them away, asking the United States Olympic Committee to send them home. Only later on did the attitude towards the two of them change, and their contribution towards the civil rights movement was recognised with a statueexternal-link erected at Carlos's old university.

That statue shows the two of them on the podium, but there is a gap where Norman would have been. A lot of people think Norman should have been included having, at the time, sported a badge for the IOC's Olympic Project for Human Rightsexternal-link - which had unsuccessfully tried to establish a boycott of the Games in protest against racial segregation.

Norman suffered too, and his decision to do what he did was spontaneous. The others had planned it.

Mexico 1968 was only the second Olympic Games to be covered by the electronic media, after Tokyo 1964. For me, the Black Power salute was the moment at which the Olympic Games became a theatre open to anybody who wanted to make a point, whether it was to win a gold medal in a world-record time or draw attention to what was considered to be a problem at home.

If you had taken a straw poll at the time, Brundage's view would have come out on top. But you have to bear in mind that although it wasn't in any way directly connected, those Games - before they opened - had seen students gunned down in the street by the powers-that-be in Mexico. There was a feeling of protest within Mexican life and the atmosphere of the Games.

I have a little personal postscript to this. On the night of that event, I was downtown in a hotel in Mexico City and I had John Carlos standing in front of me. I was waiting for my ITV camera crew and he waited quite a while for me, something like 10 minutes, but - when the camera arrived - nothing worked.

In the meantime, the BBC got hold of Carlos, gave him a room in the hotel and then produced their 'exclusive' some 12 hours later. That was a blow.

I vividly recall Brundage walking into the same hotel, looking backwards and waving to his secretary in the car that had dropped him, and not realising that in front of him was a small fountain and pond. He fell in, tried to get out, fell in again and rushed back to the car, wringing wet. What a picture that would have made.

Top Stories