Mexico City 1968

Games History

The 1968 Games was the first – and, to this date, only – Games to be held at high altitude. Mexico City was situated 2240m above sea level and the thin air did impact adversely on some performances.

In many ways, it was a Games of contention. Riots, strikes and protests occurred in Mexico City in the lead-up to the Games, resulting in the tragic deaths of hundreds of young protesters when police opened fire on a student rally a fortnight before the Opening Ceremony. During the Games, African-American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos staged their own ‘Black Power’ demonstration on the medal podium after the 200m sprint final, each raising a gloved fist in the air during the playing of their national anthem (the other man on the podium was Australian Peter Norman, the silver medallist).

The Games also featured one of the singularly celebrated feats in Olympic history: American Bob Beamon’s historic world record long jump leap of 8.90m to win the gold medal. The previous world record was 8.35m; Beamon’s jump was so extraordinary it would remain a world record until 1991. He achieved it with the fourth jump of the final on the afternoon of October 18, collapsing in a fit of emotion when the distance was displayed on the scoreboard. 

A significant moment in Games’ history occurred in the men’s 10,000m when African athletes swept the medals for the first time in an event and a Kenyan, Naftali Temu, won his nation’s first gold medal. Australia’s Ron Clarke, who lit the Olympic flame in Melbourne 1956, was sixth. African runners would later rule middle distance and distance running at the Games. Other athletics highlights included American Dick Fosbury winning the high jump with his new leaping technique, the Fosbury Flop, which would revolutionise the event; and his team-mate Al Oerter winning a record fourth consecutive gold medal in discus. Such results helped the US to the top of the medal table, winning 45 gold.

In the pool, Americans also dominated. Winning two gold medals was US swimmer Mark Spitz, who would dominate the next Olympics in Munich. Eastern European gymnasts, led by the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Voronin (seven medals) and Czechoslovakia’s Vera Caslavska (four gold) were outstanding in their sport. In weightlifting, one of the Games’ true giants, 170kg Leonid Zhabotinsky, won his second heavyweight gold medal for the Soviet Union

Mexican hurdler Enriqueta Basilio de Sotelo lit the Olympic flame in the Opening Ceremony, becoming the first woman to do so.