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  • Peter Norman: Overdue Honor for 1968 Gold Medalist


    (ATR) With the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City approaching, Australia is poised to recognize sprinter Peter Norman.

    While his finish in Mexico City is still an Oceania record for the 200m, Norman may be most remembered for his role in perhaps the most famous moment of those Games.
    Peter Norman with Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Each wears the human rights badge over their hearts.

    Gold and bronze medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in the air while the U.S. national anthem was played. The Black Power salute provoked controversy worldwide.

    In a show of solidarity, silver medalist Norman stood on the podium between the Americans, wearing a badge for human rights. By agreement among the three men, they did not shake hands during the ceremony.

    IOC President Avery Brundage demanded that the U.S. medalists be expelled from the Olympic Village. While they were scorned upon their return home by some, Smith and Carlos now are well-regarded for their protest, still against the rules of the IOC.

    Norman supposedly received a verbal reprimand from AOC President Judy Patching but remained in Mexico City. Reports say he was then offered tickets to hockey after Patching’s gentle upbraiding.

    Some reports say that Norman was treated as a pariah in Australia after the Games. Norman’s failure to make the Australian team for the 1972 Olympics, despite his record setting speed, is cited as evidence that Norman was blacklisted.
    John Coates at the AOC meeting April 28.

    The Australian Olympic Committee has issued past denials that Norman was ever treated badly by the committee.

    Australia’s late great Olympic historian Harry Gordon does not answer the question either. In his Australia at the Olympic Games, Gordon does not mention any repercussions for Norman post-Mexico City.

    AOC President John Coates has said that he regrets that Norman, who died in 2006 at 63, could not be honored with the Order of Merit earlier. Shane Gould, Ian Thorpe and Cathy Freeman, athletes who competed long after Norman, also were announced during the AOC annual general meeting April 28. Sprinter Raelene Boyle, a contemporary of Norman, was the also honored.

    “This is an overdue award there is no doubt," said Coates last weekend.

    "The respect for Peter and his actions is still enormous to this day. He believed in human rights throughout his life. We lost Peter in 2006 but we should never lose sight of his brave stand that day and further as a five-time national champion, his Australian 200 meters record set in Mexico has never been matched. His athletic achievement should never be underestimated," said Coates.

    The AOC is also trying to set the record straight on how Norman was treated during the 2000 Olympics. Communications chief Strath Gordon tells ATR that there is no evidence that Norman was snubbed in connection with the Sydney 2000 Olympics..

    “For the record, we are struggling for any evidence that Peter was in any way snubbed around the Sydney Games,” Gordon tells ATR.

    “The notion suits the general narrative, but the evidence points to the fact Peter was very much involved,” says Gordon.

    Peter Norman, right, during the Sydney 2000 torch relay.
    He mentions a press event in 1999 when the medals to the 2000 Olympics were unveiled. Norman was one of the five Olympians invited to take part in the unveiling. And Gordon says Norman ran in the Sydney 2000 torch relay.

    “Further, I am told he was also an ambassador for the AOC at a number of team launches down in Melbourne ahead of Sydney 2000,” says Gordon.

    He says there was no snub for tickets to Sydney either. Norman had the same rights to tickets as any other athlete Gordon says.

    “No question, he wasn’t singled out for special treatment but that hardly amounts to poor treatment,” he says.

    “And we have received responses from both Peter’s wife Jan and daughter Janita who have expressed utter delight and gratitude regarding the honor. Not a word of complaint from them,” says Gordon.

    Gordon says a formal presentation ceremony in Melbourne with Norman family members is now being planned by the AOC.

    Reported by Ed Hula. For general comments or questions, click here.

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