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Early on the morning of Oct. 18, Smith and Carlos were suspended from the U.S. team and given 48 hours to leave the Olympic precincts. They went to the Hotel El Diplomático but returned to the Olympic Village.
They had to sec teammate Lee Evans, who had decided not to run in the 400-meter final. "How could I?" he said a few years ago. "I was their friend. We went to the same college. Everyone would think I was a traitor to the black community."
San Jose State track coach Bud Winter, ever the master of relaxation, gave Evans no suggestions. He simply got him to sleep. When Evans awoke, Winter had arranged to have Smith and Carlos there.
Carlos gruffly reminded Evans of the team's deal, saying, "You run, win and then do your thing, man." Smith agreed. Evans felt like a free man.
Ten minutes before the 400, Bob Beamon, who had originally opposed any demonstration but who now was furious at Smith's and Carlos's suspensions, launched himself down the long-jump runway with a vengeance. He soared 29'2½", destroying the world record by 21¾ inches. On the victory stand, Beamon and bronze medalist Ralph Boston, whose record Beamon had broken, would wear the black socks of protest.
Evans, running through the astounded cheers for Beamon and pacing himself perfectly, won the 400 in a world-record 43.86 seconds. James was a close second, in 43.97. It would be 20 years before anyone else would crack 44 seconds. Ron Freeman completed the U.S. sweep with 44.41.
All three American medalists were scrupulously correct during the anthem, for which they removed the black tarns they were wearing. "We had to be careful," says Evans. "If we were thrown out, there'd be no U.S. 1,600-meter relay team."
Even so, they were booed. "What did they want me to do?" says James. "Wave the flag like George Foreman did? I felt like they should have given me a script. Then the first 20 questions in the press conference were not about our feat, which no one had ever done before, but about demonstrating. We were drilled with 'Are you holding back?' and 'Have you done enough?' "
Death threats against the 400-meter runners came in from around the world. The 1,600-meter-relay final was two days later. James and USOC president and IOC member Douglas Roby almost came to blows under the stadium before the start, when Roby sought to lecture James and his teammates on victory deportment. "By then, I could do without the ceremony," says James. "They could even keep the medal. It was the year and a half of getting ready for this that was important. The long siege of a season, the training at Tahoe, the air, the guys, the war stories. All that floods back. That's what I lived for. The victory ceremony? That seemed as if it were for someone else."
After winning in a world-record 2:56.16, the four sprinters smiled and waved their black berets. "It's harder to shoot a guy who's smiling," Evans had said. They stood at attention during the anthem.