Few moments in Olympic history are as visually memorable as the Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and this moment had very little to do with sporting competition. Two Black American sprinters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists in defiance while a third man stood in silence. That man was Peter Norman, sprinter for the Australian team, and he’s often thought of as a visual footnote in that powerful image. If anything, Norman looks awkward and out of place.
Appearances may, however, be deceiving. Not only was Peter Norman a willing participant in the brazen protest for human rights, but he was also more than eager to play a role in it. Smith and Carlos found an ally in their fellow sprinter, setting up what should have been an inspiring story of interracial togetherness. Unfortunately, Norman also ended up being the individual most personally affected by the photo, as he watched his sudden infamy destroy his career, reputation, and place in his own home country.
Norman Was Barred From The Olympics
Despite the tide of hate that came his way, Norman continued to train for the next Olympics, held in Munich, but he found himself mysteriously cut from the team despite being a legitimate gold medal contender. Norman was never picked to represent Australia in the Olympics again, having earned the scorn of the powers that be in Australian athletics for his bold stance on human rights.
This was not a grudge that disappeared quickly, either. The 2000 Sydney Olympics, which set out to honor Australia’s past Olympic greats, failed to mention Norman a single time.
Norman Had No Regrets – And Smith And Carlos Were Pallbearers At His FuneralPhoto: Salute!/Paramount
The Australian government formally apologized to Peter Norman in 2012, but, unfortunately, it was too late for him to hear it. Norman died in 2006, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos were pallbearers at his funeral. Norman’s story became more widely known after his nephew, Matthew, directed a documentary titled Salute!, which made waves in Australia. Matthew wanted it made clear that Norman wasn't just “helping out” Smith and Carlos; he was making a stand of his own about something he believed in just as much as they did.
Despite passing away before this vindication, Peter Norman did not go to his grave a regretful man. According to him, "It has been said that sharing my silver medal with that incident on the victory dais detracted from my performance. On the contrary. I have to confess, I was rather proud to be part of it."