March 06, 2019 4 min read

The summer Olympics of 1968 - the Games of the XIX Olympiad - in Mexico City was the second, after Tokyo in 1964, to be shown live on television in colour. Of the images that were projected of the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico, those of US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium after the 200 metres final, both wearing a black glove as a representation of ‘Black Power’ and holding their arm aloft, have been written into Olympic- and world history. That there was no place for such political gestures at a sporting event and, to which IOC president Avery Brundage objected and which he heavily criticised at the time, is still debated. Smith insisted that the gestures were ‘About humanity and our society’. Smith and Carlos were suspended from the US team and banned from the Olympic Village.


When the US Olympic Committee refused to comply, the IOC threatened to ban the entire US track team, which led to Smith and  Carlos’s expulsion, the IOC referring to it as ‘A deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit’. The athletes were banned from the Olympics for life. It was a theme that had been raised before the Games, as South Africa had been provisionally invited on the understanding that the country would eliminate all segregation and discrimination in sport by 1972.


Once other African- and Eastern Bloc countries and African American athletes threatened to boycott the event if South Africa were permitted to take part, the IOC decided that it would be better for all concerned if South Africa didn’t participate. The Games took place between October 12th and 27th, the first to be held in Latin America, the track and field athletes competing for the first time in an Olympics on the new all-weather surface, the ‘tartan track’ that had replaced cinder.


The altitude of Mexico City - over 2000 metres above sea level - has never been repeated by the IOC for a venue hosting the Games. Another first was the separation for a global sports competition of West- and East Germany, who in the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Games had competed as a united Germany team. Barbados was another competing for the first time as an independent country.


The first athlete to be eliminated for doping offences - tests having recently been introduced - Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall of Sweden, was disqualified for alcohol use. At Estadio Olímpico Universitario several feats of greatness were achieved in track and field events, notably the United States’ discus thrower, Al Oerter, becoming the first track and field athlete in modern Olympic history to win four consecutive Olympic Gold medals, in 1956, 1960, 1964 and Mexico City. Another United States athlete, Bob Beamon, broke the world record in the long jump event so comprehensively - a jump of 29.2 feet, or 8.90 metres - breaking it by twenty two inches, or fifty five centimetres - that his record remained intact until 1991. Jim Hines won two Gold medals, in the 100m and the 4 x 100m relay, and won the final of the 100m in the first official sub-ten-second time - of 9.89, later corrected to 9.95. Tommie Smith did the same in the 200m final, with the first official sub-twenty second time of 19.83. Twenty one year old Lee Evans had set a new world record of 44.06 in the 400 metres at the US Olympic trials earlier in the year and in Mexico City reduced this to 43.86 in the men’s 400 metres final.


The triple jump world record was reduced by three different athletes during the competition, the winner, Victor Saneyev of the USSR setting two new world records on the same day, 17.23m, increasing it to 17.39m, and going on to retain his title at the 1972 and 1976 Games. US high jumper Dick Fosbury won Gold using a technique never before seen in international competition. He broke the Olympic record with a jump of 7 feet 4 1/4 inches (2.24 metres). Sixteen year old Debbie Meyer , also of the USA, became the first swimmer in Olympic history to win Gold in three separate individual events, the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle. This was the first time that the women’s 800m event had been held at an Olympic Games. American swimmer Charlie Hickcox won three Golds, in the 200m individual medley - in which he set a new world record -, 400m individual medley and 4 × 100m medley relay.


Gymnast Věra Čáslavská of Czechoslovakia won four Golds, defending her all-around title, and on the floor, uneven bars and vault. She joined other athletes in making a political statement in her protest while on the podium, against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. Mexico 1968 witnessed the beginning of African dominance of men’s distance running,
African nations winning at least one medal in all running events, from the 800 metres to the Marathon. Mexico City has gone down in Olympic history as one of sport’s most spectacular global events.
Remember the 1968 Olympic games with this Mexican 1968 Poster form the Olympics. 

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