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Australia honours ‘Black Power’ hero Norman with Order of Merit

Australia's Peter Norman (second left) crosses the finish line of the men's 200m final in second behind American athlete Tommie Smith (third right ) at the Mexico Olympic Games on October 17, 1968. The USA's John Carlos (fouth left) was third. AFP
Australia's Peter Norman (second left) crosses the finish line of the men's 200m final in second behind American athlete Tommie Smith (third right) at the Mexico Olympic Games on October 17, 1968. The USA's John Carlos (fourth left) was third. AFP

Australia honours ‘Black Power’ hero Norman with Order of Merit

The Australian Olympic Committee on Saturday awarded a posthumous Order of Merit to Peter Norman, a record-holding sprinter who supported two Americans in their famous Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

At the Games Norman split US track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos to take silver in 20.06 seconds, setting a national record for the 200m that still stands after 50 years.

The AOC said it was Norman’s decision to stand in solidarity with Smith and Carlos during their silent civil rights protest on the medal podium that further etched him into Australian Olympic folklore.

During the award ceremony, Smith and Carlos both put a black-gloved fist in the air. Norman backed their gesture, wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in support, but he was then frozen out of future Games selection and airbrushed from Australian Olympic history until recently.

“This is an overdue award there is no doubt. The respect for Peter and his actions is still enormous to this day,” AOC President John Coates told the AGM in Sydney on Saturday.

“He believed in human rights throughout his life.

“We lost Peter in 2006 but we should never lose sight of his brave stand that day and further as a five-time national champion, his Australian 200m record set in Mexico has never been matched.

“His athletic achievement should never be underestimated.”

In 2012, Canberra passed a motion of apology to Norman “for the treatment he received upon his return to Australia, and the failure to fully recognise his inspirational role before his untimely death in 2006”.

Australian Olympic officials deny Norman was ever blacklisted or shunned, and was only cautioned at the time to be careful about his public statements.

Coates also awarded the Order of Merit to other Olympic greats, sprinter Raelene Boyle, Aboriginal 400m runner Cathy Freeman and swimmers Shane Gould and Ian Thorpe.

An Order of Merit is awarded to a person who in the opinion of the AOC Executive has achieved remarkable merit in the sporting world, either through personal achievement or contribution to the development of sport.

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