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A COURAGEOUS STAND
Kenny Moore
August 05, 1991
In '68, Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists for racial justice
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August 05, 1991

A Courageous Stand

In '68, Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists for racial justice

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They were placed on their marks. "I took no practice starts," says Smith. "John was in Lane 4. I was in 3. I calculated it this way: Come out hard but keep power off my inside leg on the turn with a short, quick stride. Then in the straightaway I'd maintain for four strides and attack for eight."

At the gun, Carlos was away perfectly. Smith ran lightly and I with building emotion. He felt no pain. Carlos came out of the turn with a 1½-meter lead. Then, a man unto himself, he swiveled his head to his left and, he says, told Smith, "If you want the gold, stop bull——and come on." Smith didn't hear him. Eighty thousand people were roaring as Smith struck with his eight long, lifting strides. They swept him past Carlos.

"I pulled back on the reins," Carlos says now. "America deprived our society of seeing what the world record would have been."

"If Carlos wants to say that," Smith says, "I applaud him for his benevolence."

"The medal meant more to Tommie," says Carlos. "Everyone got what he wanted, even Peter Norman." Carlos slowed so much that Norman, an Australian sprinter, caught him at the line for second.

When Smith knew he had won, he threw out his arms. He still had 15 meters to go. "I guess if I'd calculated a 12-stride attack, the time would have been 19.6," Smith says now. That record would have stood to this day.

He crossed the line with his arms outflung at the angle of a crucifix. His smile was of joy, relief and vindication. When he came to a stop, he felt resolve cool and strong in him.

The medalists were guided through a warren of stone tunnels under the stadium to a room that held their sweatsuits and bags. "It was a dungeon under there," says Smith.

He went to Carlos. "John, this is it, man," he said. "All those years of fear, all the suffering. This is it. I'll tell you what I'm going to do. You can decide whether you want to."

"Yeah, man," said Carlos. "Right."

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