The Olympics are upon us and I would like to remember the athletes which have profiled the games in times of the black stuggle. Jessie Owen 1913-80 won four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics which was watched with disbelief by Hitler, his idea of the ubermench showed that Owens was far superior than his fellow athletes.
In the magazine The Big Issue July 23-29 2012 No.1010, Adam Forrest wrote an article about the African American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos who took to the podium after winning gold and bronze in the 200m. As the star spangled banner began, both men raised a gloved fist in the air and bowed their heads, silencing the stadium and stunning television viewers around the world. It was the Mexico City Olympics of 1968, the summer when inner city riots and student protests rocked the United States as Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Back in the United States after the 1968 Olympics, both Smith and Carlos struggled to find work, having been sent home and banned for life by Avery Brundage. Carlos wife committed suicide, having to endure manure and dead rats in the mail. Carlos said that “people actually drove by and dropped them in the mailbox”.
What caused such antipathy? What does Smith believe his clenched fist represented? “Power,” he says. Strength and power. It was a very positive gesture but it was taken as negative. The fist in the air and the bow of the head in prayer was a cry for freedom and strength in solidarity. Maybe if we’d put our hands on our hearts as we bowed it might have been seen as something more positive but sometimes perception has to be challenged and changed. You see, with that gesture it showed the world that America needed improvement,”he says.
Improvement is shown through the powerful athlete Usain Bolt, who has dominated the 100m. His personality has transformed the 100m. People see Bolt as the dominant presence at the Olympics and it has made the games the Usain Bolt show. Yes, there are many other athletes who do deserve a mention, however the talk will be dominated by this athlete who has bought a new life into the games. Even when Bolt is due to run there is a countdown, all seats are full, the stadium has a positive energy which has come a long way from Jessie Owens who won his four gold medals in front of a monster. Tommie Smith and John Carlos showed how African Americans had to tell the world of their plight. Today Usain Bolt reigns supreme. In his book, Usain Bolt Faster Than Lightening he says “Let’s not say that l’m bigger than Bob Marley. I’m one of the icons of Jamaica, yeah, and being compared to Bob is an honour, but he’said huge, man.’ Bolt has won the Laureus Award for the world Sportsman of the year in 2009, 2010, and 2013. Which makes him an icon who will go down in history.
Jessie Owens, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Usain Bolt are athletes who will always be remembered for the changes in black athletes power in the Olympic games.