Thus Evans, who had been prepared to boycott his final, to make any gesture, ended up making none. He would go home to San Jose as he feared, a pariah in the black community.
Black athletes won seven of the 12 U.S. men's track and field gold medals in Mexico, set five world records and tied another. Black U.S. women won three golds and set two world records. Wyomia Tyus became the first woman to win the Olympic 100 meters twice when she defended her 1964 title with a world-record 11.08. But the black women had been excluded from the men's deliberations over boycott and gesture. Tyus ignored the slight and dedicated her gold medal to Smith and Carlos.
The records were assisted by Mexico City's 7,350-foot altitude, but not enough to explain why it took so long to break them. Smith's 19.83 for the 200 lasted 11 years. Jim Hines's 9.95 for the 100 survived for 15 years. Evans's 43.86 for the 400 was not broken until 1988. The 1,600-meter-relay record of 2:56.16 and Beamon's 29'2½" still stand.
Why? The summer of training had helped, but Evans and Smith believe that the tension the athletes all felt over being free to improve in sport but not in society was what drove them. It seemed that when they ran to strike a blow for freedom, a great strength came upon them.
The media of 1968 didn't exactly conspire to bury Smith's and Carlos's gesture, but neither did they attempt to understand it. John Underwood's lengthy account in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED of the Mexico Olympic track and field competition contained not a single sentence purporting to explain what moved Smith and Carlos to their act.
Underwood made much of Carlos's abrasiveness, writing, "He had stepped on a lot of toes, including those in the chow line, at the end of which he cared not to stand." The implication seemed to be that the athletes' gesture was inexplicable except as a selfish fit of pique.
"I had friends in the chow line," says Carlos. "I don't think people disliked me. They disliked the guy they read about. But this wasn't about being liked. It was about respect."
The official U.S. Olympic book made no mention of, and printed no photograph of, the 200-meter awards ceremony.
"We got letters saying, 'You set us back a hundred years,' and others saying, 'You freed us,' " says Carlos. "The verdict is still out."
When Smith and Carlos arrived home from Mexico, San Jose State president Robert Clark said, "They do not return in disgrace, but as the honorable young men they are, dedicated to the cause of justice for the black people in our society."