Wyomia Tyus’ Olympic protest resonates 52 years later

Wyomia Tyus
Getty Images
1 Comment

Wyomia Tyus slipped on a pair of black shorts for the Olympic 100m final in Mexico City in 1968, her own quiet way of protesting racial injustice.

When she finished in world-record time (11 seconds flat), Tyus became the first athlete – male or female – to win back-to-back 100m gold medals.

The Mexico City Games are most remembered for the black-gloved fists raised by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were kicked out of those Olympics for their podium gesture. Tyus’ symbolic act (and later dedication of her 4x100m gold medal to Smith and Carlos) also resonates 52 years later as athletes make their voices heard.

In late June, a group of U.S. athletes penned a letter to the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee calling for the abolition of Olympic Charter Rule 50, which prohibits protests during the Games at Olympic venues and the Athletes’ Village. Carlos co-signed the letter.

The IOC Athletes’ Commission has been consulting with athletes around the world to explore how Olympians can express themselves at the Games while keeping the Olympic Charter in mind. Proposal(s) to the IOC Executive Board are slated for late 2020 and early 2021.

Earlier this month, U.S. sprinter Noah Lyles raised a black-gloved fist before a 200m at a Diamond League meet in Monaco, again bringing to mind Olympians from 1968. On Wednesday, athletes across basketball, baseball, soccer and tennis chose not to compete, calling attention to racial injustice three days after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

As athletes continue to push for their right to protest, Tyus, who turns 75 this week, said in a telephone interview, “[It’s about] coming to the table and getting a better understanding of where athletes are today. … It used to be, you know, and it still is … athletes should be athletes, not doing anything else. We’re also human. We also have feelings. We also have rights. We also should be able to express those rights.”

Born in 1945, Tyus grew up on a dairy farm in Griffin, Georgia, during the Jim Crow era.

She was recruited to join the Tigerbelles track team at Tennessee State by coach Ed Temple, whom she still refers to as “Mr. Temple.” Temple led an enormously successful program, sending 40 Tigerbelles to the Olympics and offering the women he coached the chance to get a college education.

He guided Wilma Rudolph at the 1960 Rome Olympics, where she became the first American woman to win three gold medals at a single Games in track and field. In all, Temple’s Tigerbelles earned 23 Olympic medals.

Being a Tigerbelle, Tyus said, allowed her to obtain two educations: one in college and one traveling the world as an athlete.

“He would always say to us that track will open the door; education would keep the door open,” Tyus, who turns 75 on Saturday, said in a recent telephone interview. “He made us believe in ourselves and believe that we could make a difference.”

He also warned that Olympic success would not change systemic racism at home. Nor fix the lack of opportunities available to women at the time.

“He used to tell us a lot of times, ‘It doesn’t matter how many gold medals [you win] or how many times you go to the Olympics. When you come back home, you’re still going to be Black, and you’re still going to be a woman,'” Tyus said.

Tyus made her first Olympic team in 1964 at age 19. Temple was careful not to set expectations, telling Tyus her time would come in 1968. Her teammate and best friend, Edith McGuire, was the early pick for 100m gold. Instead, it was Tyus who crossed the line first, edging McGuire by two tenths of a second.

“[Edith] ran and grabbed me and said, ‘Tyus, you won,’” Tyus said. “‘I did?’ That was never in my brain that I would win the gold medal in ’64.”

Four years later, Tyus hadn’t had her strongest season in the pre-Olympic year and felt written off because of her age (though she was only 23). But she knew she was prepared and entered the Games believing that repeat gold was within reach. Temple reminded her that no athlete won the 100m at consecutive Olympics.

“He says, ‘Now, you probably won’t get no press for it, ’cause you’re a woman,’” Tyus recalled.

The 1968 Games took place amid growing unrest of continued racial injustice both in the United States and abroad.

Tyus spoke with other athletes in the village about protesting in support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which was created to draw attention to inequality and injustice worldwide. She said the athletes did not agree on a single form of protest, “so it was left up to each person to do it.”

Tyus wore black shorts instead of her uniform pair throughout the Games, including in the 100m and 4x100m finals. She did not share her plans with anyone else.

“[It was] my way of protesting,” she said. “There was no need to talk about it.”

Simply showing up and running her best mattered, too.

“Knowing what it feels like to be discriminated against, growing up in the South, growing up during the Jim Crow era, being a Black woman, being told that muscles are ugly … to me, that was part of my protest,” she said. “This is to show people all the things [they] say are not true.”

Tyus doesn’t remember much coverage of her repeat gold and world record at the time. She does recall hearing an announcer say that Carl Lewis was the first to go back-to-back in the 100m when he did so in 1984 and 1988.

But recognition was not the reason Tyus ran.

“I didn’t do this for anybody else,” she said. “I did this for me. Whether I get the credit or not. But I do know one thing: if they ever have to look in the record books, my name would be there first.”

Tyus remained active in sports after retiring from sprinting.

She worked as a commentator for ABC at the 1976 Montreal Games, helped carry the Olympic flag at the Opening Ceremony of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and took the Olympic torch through Griffin, Georgia, before the 1996 Atlanta Games. She is a founding member of the Women’s Sports Foundation, which empowers girls and women through sports.

Away from the track, Tyus worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District and as a naturalist in outdoor education.

She co-wrote “Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story,” published in 2018. These days, Tyus is staying in and staying safe and talking to her five grandchildren on Zoom. She also speaks to McGuire, still her best friend, almost every day.

The deaths of Black Americans, including George Floyd, and the protests and racial reckoning that followed, brought her back to the ’60s, she said, emphasizing the need for as many voices as possible to condemn systemic injustice.

“The more people you get to speak up and stand up for it and say this is not right,’” she said. “I can never say enough. You’re definitely stronger in numbers.”

MORE: Smith, Carlos weigh in on potential athlete demonstrations at Tokyo Olympics

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Chicago Marathon features Emily Sisson’s return, Conner Mantz’s debut, live on Peacock

Emily Sisson
Getty
0 Comments

At Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, Emily Sisson makes her return, nearly three years after Olympic Trials disappointment. Conner Mantz makes one of the most anticipated U.S. men’s debuts in 26.2-mile racing.

It is not the norm, but an American will be one of the spotlight runners in both the men’s and women’s elite races at a major marathon. Peacock airs live coverage at 8 a.m. ET.

Sisson, 30, starts her first mass marathon since dropping out of the Olympic Trials on Feb. 29, 2020, her legs “destroyed” on the hilly Atlanta course where she started as arguably the favorite. She ran the virtual New York City Marathon later in 2020, but that was solo (and not in New York City). Her 2:38:00 isn’t recorded in her official results on her World Athletics bio.

Since, Sisson won the Olympic Trials 10,000m on the track and was the top American in Tokyo in 10th place. She moved back to the roads, winning national titles at 15km and the half marathon and breaking the American record in the latter.

Sisson vaulted into the elite group of U.S. female marathoners in 2019, when she clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in American history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow.

At the time, it was the 12th-best U.S. performance all-time. In the last two years, Keira D’Amato, 37, and Sara Hall, 39, combined to run seven faster marathons. At Chicago, a flat course that produced a world record three years ago, Sisson can answer them and perhaps get close to D’Amato’s American record 2:19:12.

“I’m hoping sub-2:20,” coach Ray Treacy said, according to LetsRun.com. “With the [super] shoes and the training behind her, I would think that’s [worth] at least three minutes.”

It is less likely that Sisson can challenge for the win on Sunday given the presence of Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 World champion and defending champion in the Windy City. The 28-year-old mom is the fifth-fastest woman in history with a personal best of 2:17:08. And Ethiopian Ruti Aga, a podium finisher in Berlin, New York City and Tokyo with a best time of 2:18:34, though she has one marathon finish since the pandemic (a seventh place).

Like Sisson, Mantz has shown strong recent road racing form. The American men’s debut marathon record of 2:07:56 (Leonard Korir) is in play. If he can break that, Mantz will be among the five fastest U.S. marathoners in history.

Rarely has a U.S. male distance runner as accomplished as Mantz moved up to the marathon at such a young age (25). At BYU, he won NCAA cross-country titles in 2020 and 2021 and placed fifth in the Olympic Trials 10,000m, then turned pro and won the U.S. Half Marathon Championships last December.

“If everything goes as planned, I think sub-2:08 is realistic,” Mantz said in a Citius Mag video interview last month. “If everything goes perfect on the day, I think a sub-2:07, that’s a big stretch goal.”

The men’s field doesn’t have the singular star power of Chepngetich, but a large group of East Africans with personal bests around 2:05. The most notable: defending champion Seifu Tura of Ethiopia and 2021 Boston Marathon winner Benson Kipruto of Kenya.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

Alpine Skiing Combined
Getty
0 Comments

Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!