SI Vault
Giants on the Earth
Kenny Moore
June 29, 1987
Two awesome performances at the '68 Games still stand as records: Bob Beamon's long jump and Lee Evans's 400 meters
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 29, 1987

Giants On The Earth

Two awesome performances at the '68 Games still stand as records: Bob Beamon's long jump and Lee Evans's 400 meters

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

"And we would win," says Tommie Smith. "And then maybe say 'Hi' to the world. Make your gesture, but, man, be able to explain it to the press."

They set more world records than any U.S. Olympic track team since 1932. "Winning was related to what was important to me," says Evans now. "Black pride and the cause of social justice. I had an advantage over kids today. They don't have that political force poking them in the back."

When Smith won the 200 in a world-record 19.83 (which would have been a still-standing 19.7 if he hadn't thrown up his arms with six meters to go) and Carlos was third, they mounted the victory stand in black socks. When the anthem played, they bowed their heads and shot black-gloved fists to the sky. The socks symbolized black poverty, Smith told the press afterward, the fists black power and black unity.

"It was not a gesture of hate," Smith said then and says now. "It was a gesture of frustration. I loved my country. I wanted it to be better."

Within a day, Smith and Carlos had been expelled from the Olympic Village. The question now was whether anyone else would follow them out. "After John and Tommie's gesture," says Evans, "I decided not to run. How could I? I was their friend. We went to the same school. Everyone would think I was a traitor to the black community."

He was visited by Winter, his coach, a master of relaxation techniques. Winter never told him what to do; he simply got him to sleep. When Evans awoke, there was Carlos. "Hey, Lee," he said gruffly. "I heard you weren't going to run. You run, and you win."

Smith, too, released him. "And I think he used it all as fuel for that third 100," says Smith. "He burned up all the fear and ordeal of that summer of trying to make ourselves understood."

Evans set a record that has stood for 19 years. The extent of the quarter-milers' protest was black socks and berets, which they removed for the national anthem. They walked to the victory stand, aware of death threats against them. "We decided we'd smile a lot and show our warmth," says Evans. "It's harder to shoot a guy who's smiling."

Few were smiling when the Mexico City world-record holders returned home. As he had feared, Evans was ostracized in the more radical quarters of the Bay Area, where hunger for symbol was insatiable. He continued running and made the 1972 U.S. 4 X 400 relay team, yet did not get to race. Teammates Matthews and Wayne Collett, first and second in the Munich 400, were thrown out for chatting on the victory platform during the national anthem, and John Smith was injured, so the U.S. couldn't field a full relay team.

By 1975, Evans was in Nigeria, coaching. "I was embarrassed at the African sprinters' being eliminated in the first round in Mexico," Evans says. "We were going on about black solidarity, and here were these guys, blacker than we were, getting whipped just because they had no technique."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6