News03 Oct 2006

Peter Norman dies of a heart attack


1968 Olympic 200m medal ceremony - l to r - Norman, Smith, Carlos (© Mark Shearman)

Australian 200m record holder Peter Norman died this morning of a heart attack at the age of 64.

Norman had held the Australian 200m record of 20.06 since his silver medal winning performance at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. That final was made more famous by the Black Power salute carried out at the medal ceremony by Americans Tommy Smith, the winner, and bronze medallist John Carlos, who standing shoeless, wore black gloves and raised their clench fists during the playing of the American national anthem in protest against racial discrimination in the United States.

Less well known is that Norman, a good but until the Olympics an unheralded sprinter, wore a badge on his track suit, in support of the Americans’ cause, that of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. The Australian was also the one who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in the salute, as Smith had originally planned to wear both.

Recalling the impact the protest made, Norman commented last year - "It was like a pebble landing in the middle of a pond, and the ripples are still travelling." 

In the Olympic final itself, Norman destroyed his pre-Olympic best by 0.5 with 20.0 (20.06 – automatic timing), overtaking a decelerating Carlos in the last five metres of the race to take silver. In the opening round of his Olympic campaign, Norman had run an Olympic record of 20.2 (20.23), a time which he repeated in his semi-final.

In 2000, Norman was awarded an Australian Sports Medal for his significant contribution as a competitor, and in 2005, he was reunited with Smith and Carlos at San Jose State University for the unveiling of a statue commemorating the 1968 protest.

At the 2006 Athletics Australia Invitational at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Norman presented current Australian 400m champion John Steffensen - who the next month in the MCG was to become Commonwealth champion - with a copy of the Mexico City podium, autographed by himself, Smith and Carlos.