Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) on the podium after the 200 meter race at the 1960 Summer Games in Mexico City. Peter Norman took silver and is the person on the left. All three wore the OPHR button and went barefoot in protest.
Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) on the podium after the 200 meter race at the 1960 Summer Games in Mexico City.

An amazing post from the blog whatwesee has been making the rounds – The White Man in the Photo – which focuses on the story of Peter Norman, the Caucasian sharing the podium with Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

You would think with all the attention Smith and Carlos got with their black-glove protest, two fists thrust defiantly in the air, that they had placed first and second in the 200 meter race. But it was Norman who took silver in front of Carlos. And while Smith and Carlos were famous runners from “Speed City”, Lloyd (Bud) Winter’s San Jose State College track team, Norman was no slouch. In fact, according to Richard Hoffer in his book, Something in the Air: American Passion and Defiance in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Norman, Smith and Carlos traded places on record paces several times.

“Smith tied the record of 20.3 in the first round; Norman, who had never run faster than 20.5, ran 20.2 to break it in his head; and then Smith came back in his to tie it. This was inspired running. In Wednesday’s two semifinals, both Smith and Carlos won their races in new Olympic records of 20.1.”

Tommie Smith won the finals in world record time of 19.83 seconds, but Peter Norman snuck ahead of John Carlos at the end as Carlos was turning his head. According to Hoffer, Norman really wanted in on the protest, and bumped into Harvard rower, Paul Hoffman. Hoffman, a Caucasian, was part of a crew team that went out of their way to support the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) and their demands for equality for Blacks in America. Hoffman was the type of who invited the women’s track team, who were Black, to an all-white Harvard alumni event in Canada, and who set up a meeting with the Black Panthers to discuss ways the Harvard rowing team could show their support.

OPHR Button
OPHR Button

So when Norman walked by Hoffman, he said, “Hey mate,” you got another one of those, Hoffman was suspicious. Norman was from Australia, which had an apartheid-like policy of its own…and yet he was asking for Hoffman’s OPHR button. Hoffman wondered whether Norman was joking. Hoffman decided that he wasn’t.

And the rest is history. Norman shared that incredible moment with Smith and Carlos, shoeless and defiant. And while our eyes never really notice the white guy in the photo, as the popular blog post notes, Norman did suffer the consequences when he went home to Australia. As stated in the “whatwesee” blog post, Norman was treated like an outsider, an outcast, and subsequently couldn’t get stable work. Norman eventually had to deal with depression and alcoholism. As the whatweesee blog post states,

Jason GatlinWhen Justin Gatlin lost to Usain Bolt in the 100-meter finals at the IAAF Track and Field Championships, the twitterverse was definitely rooting for Bolt to retain his championship. Gatlin’s history with doping turned this match into a morality play – Unblemished Bolt vs. Tainted Gatlin.

There were some who came to Gatlin’s defense – he tested positive for a banned substance in 2001, was subsequently banned for competition for two years, which was later reduced to one year. In other words, he served time for the crime, as it were.

What I learned recently is how aggressive drug testing is today. According to this article by Nick Zaccardi, who writes a blog on the Olympics for NBC, Gatlin has already been tested 62 times in 2015 – that’s once every four days!

On the surface, I agree with his agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, that “It’s ridiculous.” But then again, it’s a high-stakes world where considerable amounts of money is poured into finding the edge that brings the slimmest of improvements in competitive sports.

Gatlin’s not alone. In 2014 Gatlin was the second most tested track and field competitor, but Michael Phelps was tested even more.

Thus the cat and mouse game between chemists and regulators continues…. probably forever.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07:  The New BOA Chairman, Lord Seb Coe talks to the media during the BOA Announcement of Their New Chairman Lord Seb Coe on November 7, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 07: The New BOA Chairman, Lord Seb Coe talks to the media during the BOA Announcement of Their New Chairman Lord Seb Coe on November 7, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Coe beat out another Olympic champion in a vote.

Nick Symmonds

There was a time when you could get kicked off your Olympic team for getting support from sponsors, an affront to the idealism of amateurism in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, you can get kicked off your team for not accepting support from sponsors.

Nick Symmonds is a USA Track and Field 800-meter champion, but will not be invited to the IAAF Championships in Beijing because he does not want to wear Nike gear outside of competitions, award ceremonies and press conferences. Apparently the sponsorship contract the USTF has with Nike includes “other official team functions.”

Symmonds is personally sponsored by Brooks, and believes he should be able to wear Brooks gear when not competing, accepting awards or talking with the press. “I deserve the right to know what an official team function is,” Symmonds said in a New York Times article. “They haven’t defined that yet.” the article continues to quote Symmonds as saying “the federation apparently wants him to wear Nike gear for the world championships from the time he leaves his apartment in Seattle. That’s absurd.”

According to Runner’s World, Symmonds had to sign a document saying

Bob Schul victorious_
Bob Schul upon winning the 5,000 meter race in Tokyo, from the book “The Olympic Century – XVIII Olympiad – Volume 16”

There comes a moment in your life, hopefully, when you realize that you are not apart from the world, that “no one is an island entire of itself”.

In the 1960s, the support from national Olympic committees and sports associations was not as great as it is today. Unless you were from a family of means, world-class athletes training for the Olympics had to sacrifice significantly to make ends meet. When long-distance runner, Bob Schul, was selected for the US track and field team, he did not have the means to bring his wife on the journey to Tokyo. His military paycheck yielded only $78 a month, which almost all went to food and the gas to pay for his car trips to the military base so he could train.

But as Schul related in his stirring autobiography, “In the Long Run”, schoolchildren in his hometown went door to door raising money in order to buy air ticket for Sharon Schul. Along with this financial contribution and a telegram with all the donor’s names – family and friends all – came this wonderful, heartfelt letter.

Dear Bob,

This is our way of expressing in you the pride we feel in our hearts at this time. The entire community has gained in civic pride from your achievements and representation. When you face the starting line and look up at the throng in that vast stadium, you’ll not be alone; for sitting there in spirit, and cheering you on, will be 3500 happy and emotion-packed citizens of West Milton. As the race is in progress, there will be 3500 heartbeats running in unison to yours. When you start your kick in that last lap, there’ll be 3500 people praying for you to have the strength to do your best. Win…lose…or draw, you’re a champion and first-class citizen in the minds and hearts of the people of this community. Good luck and God bless you.

A grateful Schul went on to win gold in the 5,000 meter race in 1964, the first and only American to do so in the Olympic Games.

From the book, “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”. Gaston Roelants is splashing to the lead.

I love etymology – the origins of words. Some people say that the classic American phrase – hunky dory – originated in Japan, although there are multiple explanations for this expression.

The etymology of the athletic discipline, the steeplechase, apparently has a clearer history – a traditional race in Ireland where horses or runners raced from church to church, jumping over narrow streams and low stone walls.

In 1964, the Belgian, Gaston Roelants, was the best steeplechaser in the world. The European Champion, Roelants came to Tokyo as the favorite, and he didn’t disappoint. He won the finals of the 3,000-meter race over hurdles and puddles in 8 minutes and 30.8 seconds, an Olympic record at the time.

There is relatively little video on the 1964 summer games on the internet, but thankfully you find nuggets, like this amateur film of Roelants running in the Tokyo Olympics. Roelants is at the head of the pack.

If you are a runner

The red cinder track with white vinyl lines in the National Stadium stood out in beautiful contrast to the green infield and the blue sky.

But compared to the synthetic tracks of today, not many runners miss the cinder tracks. Ollan Cassel, winner in the 4X400 relay team, said they referred to cinder tracks as “British garbage”.

Cinder tracks were often made by a British company called “En–Tout-Cas“, which was also the name of the surface they first created for tennis courts in the early 20th century. As noted in the link to this company, this British bricklaying and construction firm turned another man’s garbage into gold. They procured vast amounts of rubble that was the result of German bombing raids over London during World War II and created tennis courts and running tracks all over the world.

By 1968, cinder tracks were replaced by synthetic tracks. Cassell said that there was a big difference, between the two. “The cinders were always uneven and needed long spikes, which dug into the track and attracted the material into the shoes. This made it more difficult to glide and run like on a cloud.”

The shift from cinder tracks to artificial tracks had another effect, according to Cassell. “The all-weather track made it necessary for shoe companies to make special shoes with much shorter spikes, often called brush spikes, to keep the damage to the track to a minimum. You could also get a better stride rhythm with less resistance, as well as receive more bounce form each stride.”

From “A Picture History of the Olympics”, by James Coote

The women’s 80 meters hurdles race in Tokyo in 1964 had one of the tightest finishes you will see, with three women finishing in a near virtual tie. But I’m not here to talk about the thrill of victory, but instead, the agony of defeat.

The very best athletes in the world come to the Olympic Games with every intention to go to their very limits. That effort has risk. Marion Snider, 200-meter champion from Canada, hit a hurdle and landed hard on the cinder track, going limp as other runners zipped by her. The 22-year-old from Toronto was carried off on a stretcher.

Olympians train and prepare hard every day waiting for this moment. Snider’s was in her first and only race in Tokyo. Here is a picture of her before

usain bolt in ny
Usain Bolt, left, of Jamaica, winning the 200-meter dash in 20.29 seconds Saturday at the Adidas Grand Prix at Icahn Stadium in New York. Credit Hilary Swift/The New York Times

Wow! Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, won the 200 meters in New York in a very slow 20.29 seconds. That’s only .01 seconds faster than Henry Carr’s gold medal time in 1964.  Will Bolt be ready for Rio?

So thought French track star, Michel Jazy. In 1964, when all one might hear and read about is whether the US or USSR would dominate in the medals race, Jazy dreamed of a new power, one formed of the united states of Europe, a vision hatched from the ruins of World War II, when leaders looked for ways to avoid all together the devastation of extreme nationalism.

Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed The Treaty

Michel Jazy - French Miler  August 30, 1965 X 10862 credit:  Gerry Cranham - assign
Michel Jazy – French Miler
August 30, 1965
X 10862
credit: Gerry Cranham – assign

of Rome which established the European Economic Community in 1957. Jazy extended that thinking, and imagined a time when Europe would be the dominant player in the grandest of the global sporting competitions.

Sports Illustrated described this point in their October 5, 1964 issue.

Michel Jazy, the French distance runner, could see medals practically pouring from heaven as he explained his enthusiastic endorsement of a proposal that a European juggernaut be formed from countries in the Common Market, ostensibly to challenge Russia and the U.S. for team points—points that are unofficial and contrary to the best Olympic intentions. “A European team,” said Jazy, “would be world-beaters!”

Michel Jazy was