Page 2 of 2   <      

Clenched Fists, Helping Hand

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity

"I sure would," Norman said.

The badge, about three inches wide, said "Olympic Project for Human Rights," the words outlined by a green laurel wreath. Norman had been raised in the Salvation Army church -- he referred to himself as a "fifth-generation Salvo" -- and was keenly aware of the ugly racial climate in America in the late 1960s. The Mexico City Games took place months after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

"I couldn't see why a black man wasn't allowed to drink out of the same water fountain or sit in the same bus or go to the same schools as a white guy," Norman said. "That was just social injustice that I couldn't do anything about from where I was, but I certainly abhorred it."

Norman also recalled an almost surreal detail before the medal ceremony. "The guys probably don't even remember, but it was my suggestion that they split Tommie's gloves," Norman said.

Go ahead, look at the photo again. Smith, the right glove around his clenched fist, and Carlos, with the left glove, are raising opposite hands toward the sky. "That's why he had the left hand and I had the right," Smith told me in 2000.

Improbable, no, an Aussie helping hatch the plan for the black-power salute?

Norman was reprimanded by the Australian Olympic Committee the day after the incident and ostracized by the media in his homeland. During the 2000 Sydney Games, it was a crime that there was so little mention of the last Australian male sprinter to medal. You had to take a train through a downtown Aboriginal community before a large photo of the 1968 medal ceremony emerged, plastered on the side of a house, under the words, "Three Proud Men."

No one knew, for instance, that Norman never ran faster than the 20.06 seconds that night in the 200 meters, that he came home and fathered two daughters and about 10 years ago survived gangrene and the near amputation of his right leg from a running injury. They never knew that his friendship with Smith and Carlos grew into a genuine bond. Both plan to attend the funeral and memorial service in Melbourne on Monday. He last saw them during the unveiling of a statue at San Jose State last year, commemorating the event, where Carlos's children called the sun-bleached Australian, "Uncle Pete."

Peter Norman, who came to Mexico City as merely an Olympian and left as a participant in history during the tumult of the 1960s, is survived by family -- including the two brothers he stood beside proudly that night on the podium.


<       2

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity