Five decades after he stood in solidarity with US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos as they made their iconic black power protest at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, late Australian sprinter Peter Norman’s support for civil rights has been recognized.
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) said Saturday they had awarded a posthumous Order of Merit to Peter Norman, whose Australian record for the 200-meter race still stands 50 years later.
Norman, who died in 2006, did not compete in another Olympic Games. His family claimed he wasn’t selected despite qualifying; however, the AOC denied any suggestions that Norman was ostracized or “blacklisted” for supporting Smith and Carlos’ podium protest. In 2012, an Australian federal lawmaker called on the government to extend him a posthumous national apology.
In its statement Saturday, the AOC highlighted Norman’s setting of the Australian record (20.06 seconds) as he took the silver medal in Mexico – but said his remarkable athletic achievements were “dwarfed” by his decision to support Smith and Carlos as they raised their gloved fists and bowed their heads during the US National Anthem.
“This is an overdue award there is no doubt,” said AOC President John Coates.
“The respect for Peter and his actions is still enormous to this day. He believed in human rights throughout his life. We lost Peter in 2006 but we should never lose sight of his brave stand that day and further as a five-time national champion, his Australian 200 meters record set in Mexico has never been matched. His athletic achievement should never be underestimated.”
Norman, who surprised spectators by storming past Carlos to take silver, gazed straight ahead as the two US athletes gave their Black Power salute on the podium, an act of defiance aimed at highlighting the segregation and racism burning back in their homeland.
On his left breast, the Australian wore a small badge that read: “Olympic Project for Human Rights” – an organization set up a year previously opposed to racism in sport.
His nephew, filmmaker Matthew Norman, said in 2012 that that act of solidarity had cost his uncle dearly.
“As soon as he got home he was hated,” he said. “A lot of people in America didn’t realize that Peter had a much bigger role to play… He didn’t go to Munich (1972 Olympics) because he played up. He would have won a gold. He suffered to the day he died.”