The Historic 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics: USA Track and Field Hall of Famer Lee Evans

Black Power salute by 1968 US medalists. Oakland, California Museum.
Black Power salute by 1968 US medalists. Oakland, California Museum. | Source

Episodes In American History

This Hub is for our friend AEvans, a talented Hubber and valued community member.

During the school years 1968 -1969, 1969 - 1970, I rarely watched television and completely missed the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. A startling event at this Olympics was the raised-fist gesture that protested racial inequality in the USA and really, the world. The raised fist became a logo not only for Black Power, but also for Freedom. Today, it represents facets of Civil Rights progress, but also a tense time period in American history. The late 1960s and early 1970s brought forth "race riots" and curfews around several cities in the nation, including Central Ohio -- It was a surreal three days during the hottest days in late August and early September when tempers flared in Columbus, disorder broke out, and people were ordered off the streets by very early evening.

Several books have been written about the raised-fist gesture in Mexico City, its aftermath and the sociopolitical movement that led up to it. At least two films have been produced about the event and the progress of Civil Rights in America, South Africa, and other nations. The latest film has been a product of Australia's Matt Norman (Olympian Peter Norman's nephew) in 2008 (see links below). Interviews with two young men on the Olympic Medal awards stand in October 1968 continue to this day, and interviews with their teammate, now the famous Coach Lee Evans are enlightening.

Lee Edward Evans is a historic American track and field athlete, winner of two gold medals at the 1968 Summer Olympics and a Fulbright Scholar. He has coached from the USA to Nigeria.

Opening of the 1968 Summer Olympic Games at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario in Mexico City.
Opening of the 1968 Summer Olympic Games at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario in Mexico City. | Source

The Last Protest: Lee Evans in Mexico City

The Last Protest: Lee Evans in Mexico City
The Last Protest: Lee Evans in Mexico City

From the book jacket: South Alabama head cross country/track and field coach Lee Evans partnered with renowned track biographer Frank Murphy to tell the story of the former 400-meter record-holder's journey to become a champion at the 1968 Olympic Games. South Alabama head cross country/track and field coach Lee Evans partnered with renowned track biographer Frank Murphy to tell the story of the former 400-meter record-holder's journey to become a champion at the 1968 Olympic Games.

 

Every time you sprint 400 meters your personal character will be challenged.

-- Lee Evans

Running to Achievement

In 2009, media speculation was that Head Cross Country/Track & Field Coach Lee Evans had retired from University of South Alabama Athletics and planned to return to Nigeria and reprise his 1970s achievements in recruiting and coaching winning Olympians. Some thought Coach Evans would become the new Technical Director of The Athletic Federation of Nigeria, perhaps replacing Mr. Sunday Bada, but in 2010 this was unclear.

Coach Evans's stated intent for some time, however, was to train and encourage runners in that African nation again. In addition to this project, Coach Evans has been a dedicated advocate for delivering the truth about and an end to the HIV/AIDS public health problem worldwide. For over 40 years, he has put his athletic fame and personal convictions to effective use, beginning with sportsmanship and Civil Rights, but also breaking World Records for human speed

Lee Evans was inducted into the United States of America Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1983 for his athletic victories in a brilliant track and field career that produced two World Records in the 1968 Olympics. The records stood unbroken until 1988 and 1993, respectively. Coach Evans was also honored among the list of 100 Golden Olympians at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition, he has coached other medal-winning Olympians in the past and will likely coach many more in the future.

See and hear Lee Evans in the video below.

Fists of Freedom Preview

Fists of Freedom in Mexico City

During the 200 m track event, US team member Tommie Smith won Gold in a world record 19.83 seconds, Australian Peter Norman won Silver, and American John Carlos won bronze. Two African-Americans medalled during a period of high racial tension in America. In a political statement, they stood on the medal podium shoeless, in black socks, with black-gloved fists raised to represent power and unity, but with heads bowed (see BBC News Article). Smith and Carlos were banned from the remaining events of the 1968 Summer Games by the IOC and team member Lee Evans nearly left as well in support and protest, but deliberated and decided to continue running his 400 m events.

In the 400 m Medal Ceremony, Mr. Evans and his wining team members Larry James and Ron Freeman, all accepted their medals dressed in berets similar to those of the Black Panther Party. This was a subtler statement, but indeed a statement and it was not met with an IOC ban.

Smith and Carlos were criticized and threatened at home, but later played successfully for NFL teams. Smith became a professor at Ohio's Oberlin College and was given a Sportsman of the Millennium Award in 1999. Carlos is a coach at Palm Springs High School for many years. They both received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

Australian Peter Norman was sympathetic with Smith, Carlos and the freedom and equality movement and because of this, he was criticized at home and by passed for the 1972 Olympics team. His nephew Matt has made a film about the total event (Fists of Freedom, see above link).

The raised fists at the 1968 Olympics protested racism and oppression globally. They wanted South Africa and Rhodesia disinvited from the games. They wanted the Hitler-sympathizer Avery Brundage removed as head of the International Olympic Committee. They wanted Muhammad Ali’s title, stripped for his opposition to the war in Vietnam, restored. They wanted more African-American coaches hired.

— David Zirin, Interviewer

The IOC Opinion

Arthur Ashe Courage Award - Lee Evans Speaks

World Records and Championships - Lee Evans

.

World Records from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics

  • 400 m -- 43.86 seconds (1968 to 1988, broken by US runner Butch Reynolds).
  • 4 x 400 m relay -- 2:56.10 as anchor (1968 to 1993, broken by US Team that included Butch Reynolds)

Medal Attainment

  • 1972 Munich Olympic Trials: 400 m - 4th place; US team did not compete (injuries, etc.).
  • 1969 AAU: 400 m - Gold
  • 1968 Mexico City Olympics: 400 m - Gold
  • 1968 Mexico City Olympics: 4 x 400 m relay - Gold
  • 1968 AAU: 400 m - Gold
  • 1967 Winnipeg Pan-Am Games: 400 m Gold
  • 1967 AAU: 400 m - Gold
  • 1966 AAU: 400 m - Gold

Coaching

  • Nigeria - planned in the 2010s.
  • University of South Alabama - Coach, Cross Country/Track & Field.
  • Washington Huskies - Assistant Coach (early 2000s) according to Huskies website.
  • Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Qatar, Saudia Arabia, and 16 other nations: 1975 - 1979; Coach and the Director of the national track and field programs of Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. All-Africa Team - Sprinting Coach, 1977; Nigerian Coach of the Year Award.
  • San Jose State University - Cross Country Coach and Assistant Track Coach.

Advocating Sports in Africa

Sports of all varieties are advocated by the government of Nigeria and athletes and coaches are supported in their efforts to improve sports and sporting events for the populace, especially for the youth of the nation. I am one of two people to hold the position of US Representative to the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa-Zone 3, and can testify to the constant efforts and success in many sports in Western Africa, including track and field events and other Americans' leading contributions to them.

Coach Lee Evans traveled to Nigeria in the 1970s to enhance and advocate for runners' training events in that nation. He recruited members and coached Nigerian Olympic runners in the 1970s and in the 2010s, he was in that nation to coach Nigerian runners for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

In a 2009 interview with the newspaper of the University of Mississippi, Coach Evans reported that his athletes have secured several Olympic medals - 2 Gold, 2 Silver, and 3 Bronze among 5 runners.

© 2010 Patty Inglish

More by this Author


Comments 10 comments

K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 6 years ago from Northern, California

Always a joy to read your work, I learn so much. Even as USA Track and Field Hall of Famer Lee Evans was a subject I wouldn't usually take on, you managed to make it iteresting for me. Great stuff.

K9


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for the kind words, K9. I am anxious to see Matt Norman's film. I'm not sure it's released in the US yet, but I hope soon.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

I have learned a lot if not the lot from your hub. Thank you for the research and sharing.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK

Fascinating stuff, Patty! It's not something I knew much about before so I have learned something thanks to you:)


LeanMan profile image

LeanMan 6 years ago from At the Gemba

Great hub on a great guy..


Wendy Krick profile image

Wendy Krick 6 years ago from Maryland

Another well researched hub. Thank you for the information about Lee Evans.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

As my friends in Nigeria pick up information about Coach Evans's activities, I'll be sure to post it here. Thanks for all the comments!


LillyGrillzit profile image

LillyGrillzit 6 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

Another Excellent Hub! Thank you for sharing your hard work.


AEvans profile image

AEvans 5 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man! You have always been an inspiration. :)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

Lilly - I always appreciate your responses; youadd much to the ongoing discussion.

AEvans - Welcome back again, and liked the opportunity to look into this great man's accomplishments. I did not understand much of the events when I was younger! Thanks for your kind words as well.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working