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Peter Norman, 64; Sprinter Supported His U.S. Rivals’ Protest at ’68 Olympics

Times Staff Writer

Peter Norman, the Australian sprinter who supported black U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos in their silent protest for equal rights on the medals podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, has died. He was 64.

Norman, who was second in the 200-meter race behind gold medalist Smith and ahead of bronze medalist Carlos, died Tuesday of a heart attack in his native Melbourne.

When “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played during the awards ceremony, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and each raised a black-gloved fist in protest against racial discrimination in the United States.

Norman, who learned of their plans in the athletes’ lounge after the race, borrowed a badge for the Olympic Project for Human Rights and wore it on his track suit in solidarity. He stood at the podium and looked straight ahead with his arms at his sides.

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Norman, a 26-year-old schoolteacher and member of the Salvation Army who disapproved of Australia’s official policy supporting mostly white immigration, was criticized for his stance but maintained his support for Smith and Carlos’ position.

“My attitude was they’d earned the right to do what they thought they had to do with their 1 square meter of Olympic dais,” Norman said later. “I was glad they were doing it, and I was glad I was with them.”

Smith, who set a world record in the race, and Carlos had considered boycotting the Olympics that summer when riots broke out in the United States after the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. After their Olympic protest, they were expelled from the Games and reviled by many on their return to the U.S.

Norman kept running until 1985, when his right leg was nearly amputated after gangrene set in following a severe Achilles tendon injury. He was a five-time national champion in the 200 meters, and his time of 20.06 seconds at Mexico City remains the Australian record. Most recently an employee of the Victoria state government, he is survived by his wife and two daughters.

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Over the 38 years since the Mexico City Olympics, he kept in touch with his fellow medal winners.

“We had a bond,” Smith, who recently retired as a track coach and instructor at Santa Monica College, told The Times on Tuesday. “It was a long-lasting friendship because of that day.”

Carlos, a counselor at Palm Springs High School, said: “Peter Norman was my brother.”

Last fall, San Jose State, the alma mater of Smith and Carlos, unveiled a statue honoring them.

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Norman, who attended the ceremony, said of their Olympic demonstration: “It was like a pebble into the middle of a pond, and the ripples are still traveling.”

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claire.noland@latimes.com


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