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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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
Atomic
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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