|Representing the United States|
|Gold||1968 Mexico City||200 metres|
|Gold||1967 Tokyo||200 metres|
|Silver||1967 Tokyo||100 metres|
June 6, 1944 |
|College||San Jose State|
|Common Draft||1967 / Round 9|
|1969||AFL Cincinnati Bengals|
Tommie Smith (born June 6, 1944) is an American former track & field athlete and wide receiver in the American Football League. At the 1968 Summer Olympics, Smith won the 200-meter dash finals in 19.83 seconds – the first time the 20 second barrier was broken. His Black Power salute with John Carlos atop the medal podium caused controversy at the time as it was seen as politicizing the Olympic Games. It remains a symbolic moment in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Early life and career
Tommie Smith was born on June 6, 1944 in Clarksville, Texas, the seventh of 12 children born to Richard and Dora Smith. He suffered from pneumonia as a child, but still grew to be an athletic youth. While attending Lemoore High School in Lemoore, California, Smith showed great potential, setting most of the school's track records, many of which remain. He won the 440 yard dash in the 1963 CIF California State Meet. He was voted Lemoore's "Most Valuable Athlete" in basketball, football, and track and field. His achievements won him a scholarship to San Jose State.
On May 7, 1966 while he was at San Jose State, Smith set a world best of 19.5 seconds in the 200 metres straight, which he ran on a cinder track. That "world best" for 200 metres was finally beaten by Tyson Gay on May 16, 2010, just over 44 years later, though Smith still holds the best for the slightly longer 220 yard event. Since the IAAF has abandoned ratifying records for the event, Smith will retain the official record for the straightaway 200 metres/220 yards in perpetuity. A few weeks later, on June 11, 1966, Smith set the record for 200 metres and 220 yards around a turn at 20.0, the first man to do that in 20 seconds. 6 days later he won the NCAA Men's Outdoor Track and Field Championship. Smith also won the national collegiate 220-yard (201.17 m) title in 1967 before adding the AAU furlong (201.17m) crown as well. He traveled to Japan for the 1967 Summer Universiade and won the 200 m gold medal. He repeated as AAU 200 m champion in 1968 and made the Olympic team.
1968 Summer Olympics
Leading up to the Olympics, at the U.S. Olympic Trials at Echo Summit, California, San Jose State teammate John Carlos beat Smith and his world record, running 19.92A. Carlos' record was disallowed because of the brush spike shoes he was wearing.
At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico, Smith nursed an injured hamstring into the 200 metres final. In the race, teammate John Carlos powered out to the lead through the turn, while Smith got a typically slow start. Coming off the turn, Smith charged past Carlos and sped to victory. Knowing he had passed his training partner and closest foe, his victory was so clear, he raised his arms to celebrate 10 metres before the finish line. Still he improved upon his own world record that would last for 11 years until Pietro Mennea would surpass upon it on the same track. His time of 19.83 was recognized as the first automatically timed world record for the event by the IAAF, 9 years later.
The men's 200m winners podium was the stage for arguably one of the most iconic moments of the 20th century. As people railed against Apartheid in South Africa and racial segregation in the United States, black American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists to show solidarity with people fighting internationally for human rights. During what is usually referred to as the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute, the two athletes were booed and forced out of the Games by the president of the International Olympic Committee at the time, Avery Brundage. Carlos and Smith were hailed by most of the rest of the world as heroes. The third man on the podium, a white Australian named Peter Norman, was vilified by his home nation for wearing his Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity.
As a member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) he originally advocated a boycott of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games unless four conditions were met: South Africa and Rhodesia uninvited from the Olympics, the restoration of Muhammad Ali’s world heavyweight boxing title, Avery Brundage to step down as president of the IOC, and the hiring of more African-American assistant coaches. As the boycott failed to achieve support after the IOC withdrew invitations for South Africa and Rhodesia, he decided, together with Carlos, to not only wear their gloves but also go barefoot to protest poverty, wear beads to protest lynchings, and wear buttons that said OPHR. (See 1968 Olympics Black Power salute.)
Some people (particularly IOC president Avery Brundage) felt that a political statement had no place in the international forum of the Olympic Games. In an immediate response to their actions, Smith and Carlos were suspended from the U.S. team by Brundage and voluntarily moved from the Olympic Village. Brundage, who was president of the United States Olympic Committee in 1936, had made no objections against Nazi salutes during the Berlin Olympics. The Nazi salute, being a national salute at the time, was accepted in a competition of nations, while the athletes' salute was not of a nation and so was considered unacceptable. People who opposed the protest said the actions disgraced all Americans. Supporters, on the other hand, praised the men for their bravery. The men's gesture had lingering effects for all three athletes, the most serious of which were death threats against Smith, Carlos and their families.
Athletics and Career
During his career, Smith set seven individual world records and also was a member of several world-record relay teams at San Jose State, where he was coached by Lloyd (Bud) Winter. With personal records of 10.1 for 100 meters, 19.83 for 200 and 44.5 for the 400, Smith still ranks high on the world all-time lists. After graduating, Smith played professional football with the Cincinnati Bengals for three years.
After his track career, he became a member of the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1996, Smith was inducted into the California Black Sports Hall of Fame, and in 1999 he received that organization's Sportsman of the Millennium Award. In 2000 - 2001 the County of Los Angeles and the State of Texas presented Smith with Commendation, Recognition and Proclamation Awards.
In 2010, Smith announced that he would sell the gold medal he won at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. He put his gold medal for the 200 meters and spikes up for auction. The bid started at $250,000, and the sale was scheduled to close November 4, 2010?
Tommie Smith is featured in the 1999 HBO documentary "Fists of Freedom: The Story of the '68 Summer Games." The documentary looks at events leading up to, during and after the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, featuring interviews with athletes, including Tommie Smith, John Carlos and George Foreman, activist Dr. Harry Edwards (sociologist), journalists and archival footage of the Games and the fallout after the raised fisted gloves by Carlos and Smith.
- “We were not Antichrists. We were just human beings who saw a need to bring attention to the inequality in our country. I don’t like the idea of people looking at it as negative. There was nothing but a raised fist in the air and a bowed head, acknowledging the American flag – not symbolizing a hatred for it."
For his lifelong commitment to athletics, education, and human rights following his silent gesture of protest at the '68 Olympics in Mexico City, Smith received the Courage of Conscience Award from The Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusetts.
An airbrush mural of the trio on podium exists in the Sydney suburb of Newtown. Silvio Offria, who allowed an artist known only as "Donald" to paint the mural on his house, said Norman came to Newtown to see the mural before he died in 2006, "He came and had his photo taken, he was very happy."
In 2005, a statue showing Smith and Carlos on the medal stand (but not Norman, whose silver medal position is vacant) was constructed by political artist Rigo 23 and dedicated on the campus of San Jose State University.
A mural of the photo taken with Smith on the podium at the 1968 Olympics with Carlos and Norman was painted on the brick wall of a residence in Newtown, New South Wales, Australia, titled "Three Proud People, Mexico, 1968". The mural faces the train tracks linking Sydney city to the Western and Southern Suburbs, and is no longer visible by thousands of commuters every day. Smith, along with Carlos, was a pallbearer at Norman's funeral in Melbourne in 2006.
Also, on August 8, 2012 a segment on 11 Alive's 11-on-7 was run about Tommie. (Further info to follow.)
- 1968 Olympics Black Power salute
- Timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement
- Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame
- Other American Football League players
- Men's 200 metres world record progression
- Silent Gesture: the autobiography of Tommie Smith (2007). Tommie Smith and David Steele. Temple University Press. p42.
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- Tommie Smith, Spartacus Educational
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- USATF Press release
- Track and Field News
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- Zirin, Dave. Resistance: the best Olympic spirit
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- puma (August 25, 2008), Time To Dance: Usain v Asafa (– Scholar search), Puma, retrieved 2008-08-25[dead link]
- "Tommie Smith selling '68 gold medal". espn.com. Retrieved 14 October 2010.
- Roy, George (Director) (1999). Firsts of Freedom: The Story of the ’68 Games (documentary).
- The Couage of Conscience Award, The Peace Abbey, retrieved 2008-08-22
- "Last stand for Newtown's 'three proud people'", Josephine Tovey, 27 July 2010, Sydney Morning Herald 
- John Crumpacker (October 18, 2005), OLYMPIC PROTEST: Smith and Carlos Statue captures sprinters' moment, San Francisco Chronicle, retrieved 2008-08-22
- Tovey, Josephine (July 27, 2010). "Last stand for Newtown's 'three proud people'". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- Official Tommie Smith website
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- 1968 Olympic 200 Meters
- Barra, Allan. "Fists Raised, but Not in Anger" The New York Times, August 22, 2008
- Thomas, Katie. "For Australian Athletes, a Voice From the Grave" The New York Times May 23, 2008
- "In-flight film will urge Olympians to protest", The Daily Telegraph, May 24, 2008
- "Norman loses his spot in history", Sporting Life, October 17, 2005
- "Norman dies after heart attack", Fox Sports, October 3, 2006
- "Peter Norman, man on podium for Black Power salute, dies", USA Today, October 3, 2006
- Reed, Ron. "Norman to receive a final salute", The Herald Sun, October 6, 2006
- Hoy, Greg. "Fellow athletes pay tribute to Peter Norman", Australian Broadcasting Corporation, October 10, 2006
- Blackistone, Kevin B. "'68 protest more than a memory", The Dallas Morning News, August 23, 2008 (Archived original)
- "Peter Norman dies after heart attack", The Age, October 3, 2006
- "Bitter price of Olympics' iconic image", Sydney Morning Herald, October 17, 2003
- Wise, Mike. "Clenched Fists, Helping Hand", The Washington Post, October 5, 2006
- "Norman Remembered as an Unflinching Champion", The Australian, October 9, 2006
- "Carlos, Smith act as pallbearers at funeral of podium mate from 1968 Olympics", MSNBC, October 9, 2006 (Archived original)
- Rees, Margaret "Australian athlete supported American civil rights struggle", World Socialist Web Site, October 23, 2006