Tommie Smith

Tommie Smith

American athlete Tommie Smith is most known for his political statement during the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games. Smith, along with fellow medal winner John Carlos, made the Black Power salute as the Star Spangled Banner played at a medal ceremony.

Born on 6 June 1944 in Texas, the future Olympic 200m champion made his first impression whilst at San Jose State University. At college he was introduced to the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) by Harry Edwards. Smith was a favourite for the 200 metres in the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games.

Smith won the 200 metres final and equaled the world record time of 19.8 seconds - a time few athletes have bettered now in an era of professional athletics. Together with John Carlos, who won bronze in the race, Smith organised a political protest for the medal ceremony. As well as displaying the Black Power salute during the Star Spangled Banner, they collected his medal without shoes. Their black socks represented black poverty, whilst Smith also wore a scarf to symbolise black pride. Fellow athlete and medal winner, Peter Norman, wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity with their cause.

Speaking of this silent protest at a press conference, Smith said:

"If I win I am an American, not a black American. But if I did something bad then they would say 'a Negro'. We are black and we are proud of being black.”

To many in the civil rights movement Smith and Carlos were heroes. However, on their return to America they were met with widespread criticism.

The image of the pair on the podium, heads bowed and fists raised, remains a powerful image. Through this statement Smith and Carlos internationalised the civil rights issue in America.

In 1978, Smith was made a member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. He was a coach for the 1995 US World Indoor Athletics Championships team in Barcelona. Smith currently works at Santa Monica College and is head of the Men's Cross-Country and Track and Field Coach.

See also: John Carlos

MLA Citation/Reference

"Tommie Smith". 2023. Web.

Key facts

Name: Tommie Smith
Birth Date: 6 June 1944
Known for: Track and field athlete who won gold at 1968 Mexico Olympic Games. Remembered for his Black Power salute at the medal ceremony.