SYDNEY, (AFP) - Australian Olympic sprinter Peter Norman, who supported two Americans in their famous Black Power salute at the 1968 Games, was “mortally wounded” by the fallout, one of the US athletes said Tuesday.
As Australia's parliament moves to recognise Norman, who died in 2006, one of his companions on the dais in Mexico City, bronze medallist John Carlos, said his friend was deeply hurt by how he was treated afterwards.
Norman was not selected for the 1972 Olympics and some believe it was because he stood alongside Carlos and Tommie Smith when each put a black-gloved fist in the air in a civil rights protest at the medal ceremony.
The Australian, who won silver in the 200m, wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge as he stood with the Americans in their iconic gesture.
Carlos said Norman never recovered from the ensuing controversy.
“I think the pressures that the nation put on him and the disrespect that they showed him, I think it mortally wounded him,” he told ABC radio from the United States.
“I think he was hurting and I don't think he ever recovered from the hurt that they put upon him.” Australian Olympic officials deny Norman was ever blacklisted or shunned over the incident, and say that while he failed to make the 1972 Olympics team he competed at the 1970 Commonwealth Games where he came 5th in the 200m.
But Carlos said Norman had to “endure and sacrifice so much as a result of the individuals being so narrow-minded as to what he stood for”.
“There's no one in the nation of Australia that should be honoured, recognised, appreciated more than Peter Norman for his humanitarian concerns, his character, his strength and his willingness to be a sacrificial lamb for justice,” he said.
Australia's parliament is debating whether to apologise to Norman and several lawmakers, among them former tennis champion John Alexander, spoke in support of the motion late Monday.
“Despite running five Olympics qualifying times for the 100m and 13 for the 200m, the Australian Olympic Committee preferred to send no male sprinters to the 1972 Munich Games,” Alexander said.
“Norman's crime was to give a silent expression of solidarity to Smith and Carlos,” he added, speaking to a session attended by Norman's 91-year-old mother Thelma.
Australian Olympic officials insist Norman was only cautioned by Australia's chef de mission at the time to be careful about his public statements.