John Carlos and Tommie Smith should light the cauldron of 2028, according to Max Siegel

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EUGENE, Ore. — The first world championships in athletics held in the United States paused Thursday night to honor Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the men who protested on the medal podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Hayward Field played a tribute video to Smith and Carlos, and the crowd gave them a standing ovation.

America’s top athletics official may be eyeing a bigger tribute when the Olympics return to American soil in six years. US track and field CEO Max Siegel told The Washington Post he supports the idea of ​​choosing Smith and Carlos as the athletes who will light the cauldron at the opening ceremonies of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

“It would not just be symbolic, but it would be so meaningful to involve them in this demonstration of what the Olympics are all about,” Siegel said. “It’s certainly worthy of defending, having their presence front and center and just really being recognized for what they’ve contributed.”

Smith and Carlos’ presence was felt on day seven of the world championships, which Smith and Carlos attended. Just before the men’s 200 meters – the event they starred in half a century ago – a video detailed their actions as the US national anthem played, when each raised a gloved fist and wore no shoes with black socks to protest against social injustice and racial inequality.

Brewer: Smith and Carlos have persisted over the years

Smith and Carlos became sporting and cultural icons in the United States, but their actions drew scorn and rebuke at the time. They were suspended from the US team and expelled from the Olympic Village, and numerous news reports condemned them.

The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee has sided with Smith and Carlos in recent years as athletes have taken to social activism more frequently. He inducted Smith and Carlos into his Hall of Fame in 2019. He backed U.S. Olympians who called on the International Olympic Committee to scrap Rule 50, the Olympic charter ordinance that prohibits athletes from running politically for Games. He expressly authorized forms of protest at national trials. The USOPC has apologized to hammer thrower Gwen Berry and fencer Race Imboden for putting them on probation after podium displays.

The IOC has kept Rule 50 in place. Smith and Carlos said Thursday night that the IOC never apologized to them for the conduct of then-president Avery Brundage in ordering their expulsion from the Mexico City Games. An apology at this point, Smith said, may not mean much.

“To me, apologizing 50 years later would be beyond the idea of ​​respect,” Smith said. “I wanted you to respect this 24-year-old kid at the time. He did it. I moved forward, overcame the embarrassment of a hand that was not extended to me.

“I would like to say that the International Olympic Committee could be a great organization,” Carlos said. “But they seem to be this ostrich that buries its head in the ground trying to hide from everything. I confronted them a while ago and asked, “Don’t you think you owe us an apology? Don’t you think it’s time? Their response was, “We didn’t do anything to you. The United States Olympic Committee did it to you. I said, ‘Well, I remember you instructed the United States Olympic Committee to kick us out of the team, to take back our medals.’ ”

“The question put to them was when was Rule 50 established?” Carlos added. “Was it established when the Nazis were on the [podium] and did the ‘heil’ sign? I don’t remember them responding to that. This is a question that must be answered. Did it just happen because it was two young black guys? »

Thursday evening, Carlos took the opportunity to plead for another cause. On the eve of the world championships, World Athletics awarded the 2025 world championships to Tokyo against runners-up Nairobi. Neither the Olympics nor the world championships in athletics have been held in Africa, Carlos quipped, noting that the World Cup was held in South Africa in 2010.

“We’ve had so many great athletes from the African continent,” Carlos said. “We failed to think that we can put an Olympic Games or a world [championships] in the African continent. People say, ‘They weren’t ready.’ Football is probably the equivalent of the Olympics, and they hosted football. I think we should all push to try to have a little more equality in the ranks of the Olympic movement, the world movement and society in general.

Siegel, the only black CEO among America’s Olympic sports organizations, keeps a poster of Smith and Carlos in his office for motivation. He told them at a press conference on Thursday that he wouldn’t be in his place without them.

“Achieving the podium at the Olympics could be the most significant individual achievement of a lifetime,” Siegel said. “But thinking of others in addition to yourself in that moment, being an agent of positive social change in that moment, is a real show of character.”


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