Mexico 1968: Peter Norman – Athletics and Black Power Salute
Australian sprinter Peter Norman standing on the podium with fellow athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith has become one of the most iconic – and political – sporting photographs of the 20th century.
In the famous 200m final, Norman stunned everyone by powering past Carlos to claim Silver (Smith won Gold) with a personal best time of 20.06 seconds, an oceanic record that still stands today.
However, the enormity of the occasion came after the race where Norman – a white Australian kid from Melbourne – stood in solidarity with Carlos and Smith, both of whom gave the Black Power salute. The salute was an act of defiance that highlighted systemic segregation and racism back in the US.
As we can see in the photo taken by American photographer John Dominis, and featured in the documentary Salute (Matt Norman, Australia-USA, 2008), Smith stands in the middle – head bowed and black-gloved fist thrust into the air. He also stands without running shoes, a gesture symbolising the comparative poverty suffered by African Americans of that time.
Behind him, Carlos joins with his own Black Power salute. And Norman, who looks ahead, wears the badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. All this occurred while the American anthem, 'The Star-Spangled Banner’, played in the background.
In the documentary Salute, Smith and Carlos recall how they had approached Norman after the race. They asked him if he believed in human rights and if he believed in God. Norman, who came from a Salvation Army background, answered 'yes' to both questions and joined the protest.
Norman even suggested that Smith and Carlos share their gloves. Carlos recollects that he expected to see fear in Norman's eyes, but he didn't – he only saw love.
The Black Power salute was an act that scandalised the Olympics. Smith and Carlos returned to the US as controversial figures, but also heroes of the civil rights movement.
Norman returned home to Australia as a pariah, suffering unofficial sanction and was ridiculed as the forgotten man of the Black Power salute. He was not selected for the 1972 Olympics and never ran in an Olympics again.
Norman sadly passed away at the age of 62 in 2006 following a heart attack. History will show him as a brilliant runner – as well as a political activist who had the courage of his convictions.
Smith and Carlos gave eulogies and were pallbearers at Norman’s funeral, 38 years after the three had made history.
In October 2019, Athletics Australia in partnership with the Victorian Government, unveiled a statue of Peter Norman in Albert Park outside Lakeside Stadium in Melbourne, Norman's hometown.