Tommie Smith, John Carlos remember Olympic protest on 50th anniversary

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Tommie Smith prefers to call the iconic Olympic moment he shared — the often-labeled black power salute — by another name.

“It went further than black power,” Smith told NBC Sports last year. “I’d rather call it people power.”

Oct. 16 marks the 50th anniversary of the Mexico City Olympic 200m final, won by Smith with U.S. teammate John Carlos earning bronze. Later that night, Smith and Carlos each thrust one, black-gloved first atop the medal stand as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.

NBC Sports and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA air programs marking the 50th anniversary of the Mexico City Games this month. It starts Thursday with the premiere of “Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos” and the documentary “1968” on Olympic Channel at 8 p.m. ET.

The former is a conversation between NBC Sports track and field analyst Ato Boldon and Carlos. The latter is the film that premiered during the PyeongChang Olympics, narrated by Serena Williams, on how the Mexico City Games intersected sports and politics.

“1968” reairs on Olympic Channel on Oct. 16 at 5:30 p.m. ET. Then on Oct. 31, a two-hour special, “1968: The Legacy of the Mexico City Games,” premieres on NBCSN. The special will include highlights from an Oct. 18 LA84 Foundation Summit panel discussion in Los Angeles. More information is here from NBC Sports PR.

Smith, the seventh of 12 children who grew up working the San Joaquin Valley cotton and grape fields, came to Mexico City as the world-record holder. Carlos, who joined Smith at San Jose State the previous school year, calls Smith independent and peculiar.

But Carlos, a fiery Harlem native described by Smith as “a bee in a flock of flies,” was the favorite.

Carlos beat Smith at the second of two Olympic Trials in a world-record time later disallowed because Carlos’ Pumas were not sanctioned. Then Smith pulled a groin muscle a few strides after winning his 200m semifinal in Mexico City. The final would be later that night.

“Four steps after the [semifinal], I had a devastating pain … and I had thought I had been shot,” Smith said. “[I] looked down, and there was no blood.”

Carlos didn’t believe it.

“Fake. Artificial,” Carlos said, laughing, in an NBC Sports interview last year. “He didn’t fool me in the least bit.”

Up to that point, the podium gesture had not been discussed. Carlos said that he approached Smith just before the final and, based on their conversation, decided to throw the race.

“I said, ‘Tommie, I’m disenchanted about the fact that the Olympic Games [boycott] was called off. I want to make a statement. What’s your take on that?'” Carlos said. “[Smith] said, ‘I’m with you.’ When [Smith] said, ‘I’m with you,’ instantaneously my brain said, ‘He can have the medal.'”

Then Carlos spoke with his coach, Bud Winter.

“I said, ‘Bud, you know them races don’t mean nothing to me. Them medals don’t mean nothing to me. And it mean everything to him,'” Carlos said. “You know what he told me? He didn’t tell me, ‘Give the race to Tommie.’ He said,  ‘John, you’ve always done what you felt was the right thing to do. You gonna do the right thing whatever way you decide.'”

Though Carlos led the final coming off the turn — Smith said he held back on the curve to protect his groin — he dropped to third in the second half of the race on the straight. Carlos said he “pulled back.”

“If you really check it out, you’ll see that I’m not running down that straightaway for the last 80 yards,” Carlos said.

Smith has disputed that.

“John says he let me win,” he said, according to Sports Illustrated. “Threw the race. You cannot say that. When you don’t win, you congratulate the winner for trying his best. I don’t believe Carlos means it. I really don’t.”

Smith and Carlos are in more agreement about what happened next.

“After the race, the first and foremost objective in my mind is, ‘Now we can get busy. Let’s get it on,'” Carlos said. “Let’s do what I came here to do. Everybody got what they wanted. Everybody got their medals and so forth. And I said, ‘Now I get a chance to feel good about why I’m here at these Games.’ And we went in the tunnel.”

Australian Peter Norman, the silver medalist, was with them. Norman saw the Americans planning and inquired. Carlos said he asked Norman if he wanted to wear the same Olympic Project for Human Rights button that he and Smith would put on their jackets.

“When I asked him, ‘Did he believe in human rights?’ the first thing he told me, he said, ‘John, my mom and dad are Salvation Army workers all my life,'” Carlos said.

Norman accepted a button. The Olympic Project for Human Rights reflected Smith’s belief that the salute was about people power.

“To deal with human issues, issues of people that was being oppressed around the world,” Carlos said. “People that had no medical care around the world. People that had no employment around the world. People that was being deprived of opportunities to go to college around the world.”

Carlos and Smith marched to the podium with head-to-toe statements, recalled by the men last year.

“It was my cry for freedom,” Smith said. “The racist tendencies of America had to be shown in some fact. And this was the athletes’ platform to show the need to continue.”

Smith wore a scarf for black pride. Carlos’ black shirt, covering his USA uniform, was “to illustrate my shame of America,” Carlos said. The beads around Carlos’ neck: “It was about love first of all. But then foremost it was about the lynchings that had taken place throughout the South for so many years,” he said.

Carlos also unzipped his jacket.

“I thought about my mother, and my father, and all the people that I saw, the common working folk that I saw in this city right here in New York,” Carlos said. “And I could not go on that victory stand and be zipped up like I’m a, you know, gold collar guy.”

Both wore black socks, like other athletes on the U.S. track team. Then there were the shoes that they didn’t wear. “To illustrate poverty,” Carlos said. “You got people in the South that’s going 20 miles to and 20 miles from to get to school, have no shoes on.”

As “The Star-Spangled Banner” began, the Americans raised black-gloved fists with authority. Smith’s wife provided them. Smith wore the right glove; Carlos the left.

“We wanted to put the gloves on to let ’em know that, yes, we’re here representing America. We’re here representing the Olympics,” Carlos said. “But we’re here more folks representing black people and black pride.”

As the anthem finished, crowd reaction replaced the sound of music.

“The boos were about as profound as the silence was when we raised our fists and bowed our heads in prayer,” Smith said.

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Morgan Hurd left off U.S. gymnastics team for world championships

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Simone Biles is joined on the U.S. team for the world gymnastics championships by five women bidding to make their first Olympic team next year.

Sunisa LeeKara EakerJade Carey, Grace McCallum and MyKayla Skinner were named to the team at the conclusion of selection camp competition Monday in Sarasota, Fla. Biles locked up the first spot by winning an all-around competition on Sunday.

A notable omission was Morgan Hurd, the 2017 World all-around champion in Biles’ absence who was fourth in the all-around at the U.S. Championships in August and ninth at the selection camp on Sunday. Hurd, who came back from December elbow surgery, was named a non-traveling alternate along with Leanne Wong.

Had Hurd made the team, she could have bid to join Biles as the only women to earn all-around medals at three straight world championships. Instead, her absence is a testament to the U.S. women’s depth.

The Americans won every Olympic or world team title dating to 2011, the longest reign of dominance since Soviet teams of the 1970s. Last year, their margin of victory — 8.766 points — was the largest in history at an Olympics or worlds.

A look at the six women on this year’s team, one of which will be designated an on-site alternate at worlds in Stuttgart, Germany:

Simone Biles
Undefeated in all-around competitions for six years, Biles will break more records in Stuttgart. The biggest one is career world championships medals. Biles is at 20, tied with Svetlana Khorkina for the female record. The overall record is 23, held by retired Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo. Last year, Biles became the first gymnast to earn medals in every event at worlds in 31 years and won the all-around by a record margin despite two falls and a kidney stone.

Sunisa Lee
The revelation of this summer. Lee went from third in the junior division at last year’s nationals to second to Biles both at nationals in August and in Sunday’s selection competition. At the latter, Lee was only .35 of a point behind Biles, closer than any of Biles’ last five margins of victory at nationals. She is the national champion on uneven bars and the youngest woman on the team at 16.

Kara Eaker
Eaker solidified her spot by placing third at the selection camp with a score that would have been runner-up to Biles on either day at nationals. Eaker was 10th at nationals with scores more than two points lower than what she did on Sunday. She is a medal contender on balance beam. Eaker had the second-highest beam score in qualifying at worlds last year but fell off the apparatus in the final, placing sixth.

Jade Carey
The 2017 World silver medalist on floor and vault. Carey decided last year to try to make the Olympic team on her own individually — a new wrinkle in Olympic qualifying this cycle — which precluded her from competing at the 2018 Worlds. She’s well on her way to clinching an Olympic spot before June’s trials, but first she will be an asset to this team as its second-ranked floor and vault gymnast behind Biles.

MyKayla Skinner
The 2016 Olympic alternate pulled off the rare feat of making a world team while being an NCAA gymnast (at Utah). Skinner returned to elite gymnastics this season for the first time since Rio and impressed Sunday, placing fourth in the all-around. Like Carey, she specializes on floor and vault.

Grace McCallum
McCallum was third in the all-around at nationals and sixth at the selection camp. The 2018 World team member is best known for her floor, too. She was seventh in qualifying at 2018 Worlds on the event but missed the final due to the two-per-country rule.

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Tommie Smith, John Carlos part of U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame class

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Tommie Smith and John Carlos are part of the 2019 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame class that will be inducted later this year.

The sprinters were sent home from the 1968 Mexico City Games after staging a protest by raising their gloved fists on the medals stand. They were long left on the sidelines at the USOPC, but the federation has worked to bring them back inside the family in recent years.

“It sends the message that maybe we had to go back in time and make some conscious decisions about whether we were right or wrong,” Carlos said, according to USA Today. “They’ve come to the conclusion that, ‘Hey man, we were wrong. We were off-base in terms of humanity relative to the human rights era.'”

The class will be inducted at a ceremony in Colorado Springs on Nov. 1. It will be the first class inducted since 2012.

The rest of the class: Candace Cable, Erin Popovich, Chris Waddell (Paralympics), Lisa Leslie (basketball), Nastia Liukin (gymnastics), Misty May-Treanor (beach volleyball), Apolo Anton Ohno (short track speedskating), Dara Torres (swimming), the 1998 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team), Ron O’Brien (diving coach) and Tim Nugent (special contributor).

After the Hall of Fame essentially stalled out, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland pushed to revive it as part of a federation effort to focus more on athletes.

“We thank them for their impact on sport and society, and for continuing to inspire the next generation of athletes and fans,” Hirshland said.

The induction of Smith and Carlos is long overdue. After being kicked out of the 1968 Olympics for their iconic raised-fist protest on the medals stand, the sprinters were left on the sideline of the official U.S. Olympic movement. Their 2016 visit to the White House, along with USOPC leaders, marked the first official event they’d been part of since their ouster in 1968.

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