The third man in the picture
Sport against racism: Peter Norman
Peter George Norman is a very famous and world-renowned track athlete who was originally from Australia. He participated in the 1963 Olympics tournament held in Mexico City. He won the hearts of many Australians back home when he won a silver medal for his two hundred meters race and finished at a record time of 20.06 seconds.
He entered the games with high expectations as he had already won five national championships of a two hundred meters race. He was very well prepared for his race at the Olympics and took steps to prepare for it for a long time. Hence, it came as no surprise when he returned home wearing the medal.
There is another reason why his Olympic participation and win holds such immense significance. Norman was photographed at the event in the famous Black Power salute picture after his two-hundred-meter race.
The Black Power salute photograph was part of a much bigger narrative of the human and civil rights movement. It highlighted the importance of equality and equity for all people, regardless of race, religion, or creed. Norman wore the Olympics Project of Human Rights badge to show his solidarity with the cause.
Peter Norman's early life had been that of an ordinary Australian child. Even after receiving the fame that he did, he remained rather quiet about his early years and adolescence. He was born and raised in the countryside of Melbourne, in a place known as Victoria. His family was staunch supporters of the Salvation Army, which is a Christian Church organization.
So it is safe to assume that he was brought up in a religious family, away from the bustling big city life, and in his early years, he led a very simple life in the suburbs. He belonged to a modest working-class family who lived on a tight budget. He did juggle around with some jobs temporarily before finding his bearing as an athletic and professional runner. At first, he worked as a trainee in a local butcher shop but later switched to teaching when he found a better opportunity. After he started his career in sports and athletics, he also started coaching the local children and teenagers to make a livelihood. Even after winning the Olympics, he served as a coach at the Victorian Sports and Recreation Center, the biggest Sports academy in the area.The Olympics event of the 200 meters race took place on the 15th and 16th of October 1968. Peter Norman finished the race in 20.06 seconds that placed him second to the gold medalist Tommie Smith who finished in 19.83 seconds and made a worldwide record. The bronze medal was won by the athlete from the United States, John Carlos, who finished just milliseconds after Norman at 20.10 seconds. The race was definitely a defining moment of Norman's life and career.
The win was historic for Australia, the one to be remembered for years to come. Peter Norman achieved his ambition of winning a world title at a fairly young age, and that too in his first-ever participation in the Olympics. However, what happened after the race was equally, if not more crucial, for his future aspirations and endeavors.After the race, he was approached by his opponents, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They told him about their plan and were completely honest with him about their decision to show their Black Power salute. one to be remembered for years to come. Peter Norman achieved his ambition of winning a world title at a fairly young age, and that too in his first-ever participation in the Olympics. However, what happened after the race was equally, if not more crucial, for his future aspirations and endeavors.
After the race, he was approached by his opponents, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They told him about their plan and were completely honest with him about their decision to show their Black Power salute.
So it is safe to assume that he was brought up in a religious family, away from the bustling big city life, and in his early years, he led a very simple life in the suburbs. He belonged to a modest working-class family who lived on a tight budget. He did juggle around with some jobs temporarily before finding his bearing as an athletic and professional runner.
At first, he worked as a trainee in a local butcher shop but later switched to teaching when he found a better opportunity. After he started his career in sports and athletics, he also started coaching the local children and teenagers to make a livelihood. Even after winning the Olympics, he served as a coach at the Victorian Sports and Recreation Center, the biggest Sports academy in the area.
Norman took a few minutes to understand their intention and agenda behind their plan and what they aim to get out of it. After holistically understanding the significance of their gesture, he decided to be on board with it. His motive was to show his support for human rights and stance against racism. Norman did not raise his hand for the salute but wore the OPHR badge and showed his respect to his black opponents.The black salute picture was heavily reported in local and international print and electronic media. Many eyeballs were focused on the athletes in the picture, and they did face some heavy, hard-hitting criticism for their symbolic gesture. The photograph is the most iconic photo from any Olympics event and stirred a much deeper and bigger conversation about activism and politicking in sports and international events. A lesser-known fact about the photograph is that it was Norman who suggested that Carlos and Smith split a pair of black gloves and wear one on alternate hands. As soon as it happened, it took a few moments for the crowd and spectators on television to realize what had happened and what this meant. The spectators at first sang the anthem and cheered for the winners, but then the crowd fell silent and watched it in shock.It became an extremely controversial image at the time, and the two black runners faced enormous backlash for raising their hands, wearing black gloves. They were forbidden to participate in the Olympics for life and immediately sent back to their home country as a penalty for their defiance and show of revolt on a public forum. When they returned home, the black community treated them as their heroes and idolized their courage to stand up against racial discrimination.
On the other hand, Norman's career took a severe blow from the events that followed his admirable triumph. Although he was not officially banned from the games, he did not have many opportunities waiting for him when he returned back to his country. His action raised quite a lot of eyebrows. The political climate of Australia was an extremely tense one during that time. While in America, the civil rights movement gained a lot of momentum and had sincere supporters, the situation in Australia was completely different. There was an air of white supremacy, now known as 'WHITE AUSTRALIA' culture. Non-white people were not issued immigrant or non-immigrant visas, and discrimination against blacks was at an all-time high. One can imagine that Norman's support to his fellow black runners was not well appreciated in such circumstances. Native Australians back home met him with resentment, and his achievement for winning an Olympic medal and setting an Oceanian record was hardly acknowledged. He was punished for a mistake that he did not make.
His own people have disowned Norman. His achievement was never celebrated like it should have been. In later interviews, recalling his return to Australia after the Olympics, he described the hostile attitude by the media, sports authorities, and the masses. He was never allowed to compete in the Olympics again, although he had qualified multiple times for many different categories.
It became evident to him that he was being cornered, and he found his resolute in teaching and coaching. However, one can imagine why just coaching other youngsters for something he had dreamt and trained for was not fulfilling enough.Many sports analysts of the present day, who analyzed the series of events that unfolded during that time in Australian sports, are of the opinion that Norman should have been allowed to participate in the Olympics held in Munich. Even the runner himself was confident that he would have been able to win a gold medal for Australia if he was allowed to compete.
After the 1968 win at Olympics, in the year 1972, Norman started playing for West Brunswick Football club. He played numerous matches for that club for five years. In 1978, he gave up his position as a player for the team and started coaching the under 19 football team. He also won five National Championships in Australia in 200 meters' races.
Peter Norman was naturally gifted with his incredible speed and unwavering stamina. He may have been an underdog in the 1968 Olympics race. He definitely came into the spotlight as soon as the pistol went off, and the fact that his rivals underestimated him gave him a great edge.
However, unfortunately, due to one controversial stance at the wrong time amongst a very tense and racially discriminating political climate, Norman lost everything. Instead of returning home as a celebrated hero, he became a villain, a traitor. Opportunities blew up in thin air, and his triumph was quickly forgotten.
Norman retired after he did not make it through the selection for the Olympics held in Munich. Even after his retirement, his life took an unfortunate and sad turn. He often participated in numerous charity events, and in one such race, he twisted his foot and tore his Achilles tendon.
The injury became very serious when the healing process was delayed. Eventually, it came to appoint that the medical experts decided it was best to amputate his leg. It was devastating for Norman because all his life, he just had one passion: running. This became a trigger for his chronic depression, addiction, and despair.
Years after his career ended, a movie named 'Salute' was made in Australia and gained a lot of traction. It reminded people of the gem that they never recognized and lost to racial politics. He also received many honors awards by the Australian government later, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These included inclusion in the Sports Australian Hall of Fame (1999), Australian Sports Medal (2000), Athletics Australia Hall of Fame (2010), and Order of Merit from the Australian Olympic Committee (2018).
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