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History of the Olympics

1968 - Mexico City, Mexico

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The 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, Mexico

Only ten days before the 1968 Olympic Games were to open, the Mexican army surrounded a group of students who were protesting against the Mexican government at the Plaza of Three Cultures and opened fire into the crowd. It is estimated that 267 were killed and over 1,000 were wounded.

During the Olympic Games, political statements were also made. Tommie Smith and John Carlos (both from the U.S.) won the gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the 200-meter race. When they stood (barefoot) upon the victory platform, during the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner," they each raised one hand, covered by a black glove, in a Black Power salute (picture). Their gesture was meant to bring attention to the conditions of blacks in the United States. This act, since it went against the ideals of the Olympic Games, caused the two athletes to be expelled from the Games. The IOC stated, "The basic principle of the Olympic Games is that politics plays no part whatsoever in them. U.S. athletes violated this universally accepted principle . . . to advertise domestic political views."*

Dick Fosbury (United States) drew attention not because of any political statement, but because of his unorthodox jumping technique. Though there had been several techniques previously used to get over the high jump bar, Fosbury jumped over the bar backwards and head first. This form of jumping became known as the "Fosbury flop."

Bob Beamon (United States) made headlines by an amazing long jump. Known as an erratic jumper because he often took off with the wrong foot, Beamon tore down the runway, jumped with the correct foot, cycled through the air with his legs, and landed at 8.90 meters (making a world record 63 centimeters beyond the old record).

Many athletes felt that the high altitude of Mexico City affected the events, helping some athletes and hindering others. In response to complaints about the high altitude, Avery Brundage, the IOC president, stated, "The Olympic Games belong to all the world, not the part of it at sea level."**

It was at the 1968 Olympic Games that drug testing debuted.

Though these Games were filled with political statements, they were very popular Games. Approximately 5,500 athletes participated, representing 112 countries.

* John Durant, Highlights of the Olympics: From Ancient Times to the Present (New York: Hastings House Publishers, 1973) 185.
** Avery Brundage as quoted in Allen Guttmann, The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992) 133.

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