1942 - 2006
When Peter Norman, a Melbourne schoolteacher, split the black American sprinters Tommy Smith and John Carlos in the final of the 200 metres in Mexico City in 1968, he earned himself a niche forever in one of the most controversial moments in Olympic history. Smith, the gold medallist, and Carlos, who won bronze, staged their own racial protest on the victory dais. As the US anthem was played and the flag raised, they stared downwards and held black-gloved fists high in a Black Power salute --- a gesture of anger and defiance that caused them to be expelled from the Games Village.
Norman, standing beside them, wore a civil rights button, and supported them. He told reporters: “Every man is born equal and should be treated that way.” Advised of calls that Norman should be disciplined for his action, the Australian chef de mission, Julius “Judy” Patching, a very wise man, told him: “Consider yourself reprimanded. Now, how many tickets do you want for the hockey?”
So large has the Black Power display loomed in Olympic history that it has overshadowed Norman’s own greatness. Few people recognise that his run that day in Mexico City gave him a better Olympic record than any other male Australian sprinter in history (Hec Hogan, 1956, and Stan Rowley, 1900, both won bronze). The time he ran in the final, 20.06 seconds, remains the Australian 200m record today. That time would have won the 200 gold medal at subsequent Olympics in Montreal (1976), Moscow (1980) and Sydney (2000). Norman, a funny and gentle man, died in October 2006 aged 64.
Harry Gordon, AOC Historian