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Peter Norman 1942-2006

Peter Norman died in Melbourne yesterday at the age of 64. He should be regarded as one of Australia's greatest sporting legends. He probably won't be.

At a time when Australia's prowess on the athletics track was in decline, Norman's crowning achievement was to win the silver medal in the 200 metres at the Mexico Olympics in 1968. The gold medallist in that event was Tommie Smith, the bronze medallist John Carlos.

The two Americans took the opportunity of the medal ceremony to give the Black Power salute, a protest that horrified the mainstream America of 1968, not to mention the shamateurish Olympic establishment. Quietly, alongside them, Norman stood quietly, but wearing the same Olympic Project for Human Rights badge as did Smith and Carlos. He knew in advance what they would be doing, and he gave his silent support.

Athletics Australia issued a press release yesterday mourning Norman's passing. AAP reports comments by Carlos and Smith today.

There's more on the episode on the history website of San Jose State University, where Carlos and Smith studied in the sixties. The Dallas Morning News caught up with Norman at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and asked him about that day in 1968.

The outstanding activist sports journalist Dave Zirin related the background to the event in his Edge of Sports column in September 2003, and subsequently reprinted in his excellent 2005 book "What's My Name, Fool?". In October 2005 Zirin caught up with Norman at the unveiling of a statue of Carlos and Smith at San Jose State.

As we wait with bated breath for a tribute to Peter Norman from the Avery Brundage of 21st century Australian politics, John Howard, I finish with a quote by Norman as told by Zirin last year, talking about human rights:

The issues are still there today and they'll be there in Beijing and we've got to make sure that we don’t lose sight of that. We've got to make sure that there is a statement made in Beijing, too.