Peter Norman, the Australian sprinter who silently supported African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their iconic Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, will finally be honoured with a statue in his hometown of Melbourne.
Athletics Australia and the Victorian Government today announced Norman will be immortalised with the statue at Albert Park’s Lakeside Stadium, fifty years after he set the Australian 200m sprint record – and sealed his fate as a pariah in his home nation.
Norman surprised the world when he charged his way to a silver medal at the Olympics with a time of 20.06 seconds, but what happened next defined his career and legacy.
Smith, who won gold, and Carlos, who won bronze, had planned to wear black gloves and raise their fists on the Olympic dais to show their support for the civil rights movement in America, and to oppose the racism faced in their communities.
However, Carlos left his gloves at the Olympic Village. It was Norman who suggested they share Smith’s pair, which is why the legendary photo shows Carlos holding his left hand aloft.
Norman also asked if he could wear a badge from the Olympic Project for Human Rights to show his support for their demonstration. The badge, provided by US rower Paul Hoffman, can be seen attached to Norman’s chest in the photo.
“If a white Australian is going to ask me for an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, then by God he would have one,” Hoffman told CNN in 2012.
While Smith and Carlos were largely ostracised in the US, their heroics were recognised in the African-American community – and eventually by the nation more broadly. They were even honoured with a statue which let others fill Norman’s shoes.
By contract, Norman was effectively shunned in Australia, a nation which only voted to count Indigenous Australians in the census the year before, and which was still instituting Stolen Generation policies.
Despite continuing to set searing times on the track, Norman was not selected to compete with the Aussie team at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He retired from competition after that disappointment. Despite the backlash at home, he maintained his close friendship with Smith and Carlos.
Even when the Olympics returned to Australia in 2000, Norman was not invited; when the US Olympic Committee found out, he was officially invited as a part of the US crew.
Norman died in 2006. Smith and Carlos served as pallbearers. Still, a formal apology to Norman’s family only came in 2012. Eventually, his role as an incredibly successful athlete and pioneering supporter of equality was recognised earlier this year with the AOC’s Order of Merit – the organisation’s highest honour.
In a video statement revealed today, Carlos said “I loved Peter, because Peter never flinched, he never backed away. He never denounced who we were and what we stood for.”
In a statement, Victoria’s Sports Minister John Eren today said “Peter Norman stood up when others stood by – he deserves this honour and to be immortalised so his name and legacy live on forever.”
The statue is expected to be unveiled by middle of 2019.
In an era when athletes protesting against racial inequality still faces opposition, it’s a bloody good thing an Australian who helped others take a brave stand is being honoured.