The Black Power Salute

 

 

 

The London Olympics has reached the finish line with 44 new world records – Team GB raking in 65 medals including 29 gold, and a dynamite finale.  It was a great success.

Relieved that our UK party lived up to the glitz of Beijing, we can now look back on the best of London 2012.  This was the ultimate battle of the bashes.

Which country put on the best show? Which was bigger and better? How will Rio fare?

Like magpies, we’re drawn to the glittering shine of Olympic greatness. We grouped all our “national treasures”, from the athletes to pop stars and models, to send off our international guests on a dizzy Olympic high. Even the Spice Girls popped up for the occasion, and Darcey Bussell gave a tingling performance as a flying phoenix.  BBC presenters raved about the “power of sport” while spectacular fireworks burst over the Olympic Stadium.

Sport is powerful; in this globalized era it reaches even the remotest places, bringing nations together, but its real power nowadays is in the big bucks it generates. It lies in the £ & $, with the nicely padded out pockets of the happy sponsors and Olympic officials. Let’s get real! London 2012 didn’t change the world, it merely entertained it; being a big fat capitalist celebration more than anything.

Buried under all the hype and greed is a time when sport did make a difference. One moment in particular inked in the history pages, a moment nothing like the commercial and flashy shows of today’s Olympics, a moment driven by pure courage.

In the 1968 Mexico Olympics, African Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos collected their gold and bronze medals after running the 200m in world record time.

This medal ceremony was like no other; here two black athletes took the Olympic stand, not for glory but for justice.

Walking shoeless in black socks, beads around John Carlos’s neck, a black scarf around Tommie Smith’s, they took their 1st and 3rd positions.  As the American flag was hoisted and the Star Spangled Banner played both bowed their heads and raised a black-gloved fist.

The sound of applause usually given to Olympic winners didn’t come. Spectators booed instead, stunned by what they’d just witnessed.

This was a protest, a black power salute, a statement against a divided and oppressive America, where Smith and Carlos were considered Americans only when winning medals but in everyday life labeled “niggers” and treated as second-class citizens.

Putting their careers and lives on the line, they decided enough was enough; the world would hear their silent cry:

 

 

 

 

The motto for London 2012 is “inspire a generation” and I’m sure it’s inspired young Brits to run that marathon, jump those hurdles, and try and be the next Jessica Ennis, Usain Bolt, Ye Shiwen, or Mo Farah. I enjoyed watching them and all the other Olympians achieve their goals. It was record breaking and sensational sport and they deserved all the praise and recognition they received. Their individual stories are certainly impressive but the story of London 2012 is a shallow victory. I won’t be telling my children of the time the Spice Girls performed at the Olympic Stadium, or a stunt Queen jumped out of a helicopter, or of the number of golds we racked up.

I will show them this picture. A simple black and white photo of two men, no sparkling fireworks, no big rock bands, no pretty dancers, no words, just them standing silently in a fight for freedom.

Capturing a time when Olympians thought beyond the finish line.

These two athletes truly did inspire a generation, not to win golds but for civil rights:

 

“ To stand up and be heard, no matter the cost, no matter the price.” Carlos

 

To change the future.

It takes my breath away even 44 years later.

 

 

 

 

 

“They were willing to sacrifice themselves for something far greater than a gold medal or a bronze medal.”

Jackie Joyner-Kersee six-time Olympic medalist.

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