Sunday, July 22, 2012

Olympics: Brief history of the Modern Games - 1968 Mexico

The 1968 Summer Olympics were officially known as the Games of the XIX Olympiad, and held in Mexico City, Mexico in 1968. The first Games to be staged in a Spanish-speaking country came with genuine concern the high elevation of Mexico City, at 2,240 m (7,350 ft) above sea level would adversely affect endurance athletes. The IOC bowed to international pressure, and set a limited amount of time a team could train at Mexico City. Many experts believe despite, the thin air it contributed to many record-setting jumps, leaps, vaults, and throws, as well as all of the men's track events of 400 meters and less.

Ten days prior to the opening, the Mexican army surrounded a group of students protesting against the Mexican government at the Plaza of Three Cultures. Sadly they opened and fire killing 267 and wounding over 1,000 people. Despite vigorous protest Avery Brundage*, (president of the IOC), decided not to cancel the games. Sociologist Harry Edwards, the founder of the OPHR, had urged black athletes to boycott the games. During the opening ceremony, students flew a bird-shaped kite over the presidential box to shape a black dove as a silent protest for the repression and reminder to the world of the Tlatelolco massacre.

Norma Enriqueta Basilio de Sotelo of Mexico became the first woman to light the Olympic cauldron with the Olympic flame. It was also the first games where the closing ceremony was transmitted in colour to the entire world.

Dick Fosbury (US) executed his backward "Fosbury Flip" at 7' 4 1/2" to win the high jump. Fosby used an unsual jumping technique jumpeing over the bar backwards and head first. At first this provoked and became known as the "Fosbury flop." Later the style was adopted to the sport.

Fosby was very partcular about his shoes and insisted on wearing different spikes on his take off shoe. He experiemented with weight and wore shoes of different mass and colour on each foot.

Bob Beamon (United States) made headlines with an amazing long jump. Known as an erratic jumper because he often took off with the wrong foot, Beamon tore down the runway, jumped with the correct foot, cycled through the air with his legs, and landed at 8.90 meters. This was a new world record 63 centimeters beyond the old record.

Bob Beamon wore Weltrekord shoes to achieve his record setting 8.9m long jump.

This was the first Olympics to use a synthetic all-weather surface for track and field events; the "Tartan" surface was originally developed by 3M for horse racing, but later used in athletics. Brush Spikes replaced the traditional 4-spike running shoe. Mexico was the last time cinder tracks were used at the Olympics and sports-shoe manufacturers were quick to recognise changes were necessary in shoe design and the construction of spikes for the new synthetic tracks.

John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania became internationally famous after finishing the marathon, in last place, despite a dislocated knee.

At the presentation for the 200 metre race, Tommie Smith ( US - gold), Peter Norman (Silver - Australia ) and John Carlos (US - Bronze) , took their places on the podium. Smith and Caros wore black socks without shoes, and all three wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges. As the Star Spangled Banner was played. Smith and Carlos lowered their heads and each raised their left arm and gave a black-gloved fist. In an immediate response to their actions, Smith and Carlos were suspended from the U.S. team and banned from the Olympic Village.

On the way to the winner’s podium Carlos realized he had left his gloves in the Olympic Village. Peter Norman, suggested Carlos wear Smith's left-handed glove, this being the reason behind him raising his left hand. In the years immediately following the Games Smith and Carlos were largely ostracized by the U.S. sporting establishment. When Peter Norman was about his support for Smith and Carlos' cause he replied he was protesting against the Australian government's White Australia policy. Norman's actions resulted in a reprimand and his absence from the following Olympic Games in Munich (despite easily making the qualifying time). Years later at the Sydney Olympics 2000 he was not given an invitation to join other Australian medallists at the opening ceremony. . Smith and Carlos acted as pallbearers at his funeral in 2006.

Promoters wasted no time at the Mexican Olympics displaying their brand insignias on the champions for the world to see. Before this shoe advertisements showing Olympians receiving their glittering prizes and wearing branded shoes had to have their faces blotted out. The sight of Tommy Smith photographed in his Puma Suedes giving the Black Power fist was a powerful image closely identified by many young people around the globe. At this time it was alleged track athletes were given monetary rewards for wearing certain competition shoes.

In another incident, while standing on the medal podium after the balance beam event final, Czechoslovakian gymnast Věra Čáslavská quietly turned her head down and away during the playing of the Soviet national anthem. The action was Čáslavská's silent protest against the recent Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and was repeated when she accepted her medal for her floor exercise routine. Earlier, in her homeland, she had been forced into hiding when Russian tanks advanced, and she had practiced for the Olympics in cellars.

The introduction of doping tests resulted in the first disqualification because of doping. Swedish pentathlete, Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall was disqualified for alcohol use. He had consumed several beers prior to competing.

*Brundage had been one of the United States' most prominent Nazi sympathisers, and his removal as president of the IOC was one of the three stated objectives of the Olympic Project for Human Rights

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