Peter Norman Week 2018


1968 was a tumultuous year. Around the world millions of people stood up against injustice and oppression. In the undeclared war in Vietnam the Tet offensive was launched, when 85,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops attacked 36 towns in South Vietnam, surprising and shocking the corrupt South Vietnamese government and their foreign backers. We saw the events in Paris that almost toppled the De Gaulle government. The Civil Rights movement in America continued its ongoing momentum, changing American society.  Sadly we also saw the murders of two of their figure heads, Martin Luther King, and Robert F Kennedy. In Mexico, 10 days prior to the start of the Olympic Games, a massacre of students took place. They’d been protesting against repression and violence. This was the background to the Mexico Olympics.


The Australian Olympic team travelled to Mexico for these games. In their ranks was Peter Norman, a 26 year old from Coburg. From a young age Peter Norman had enjoyed athletics, blossoming with a Victorian Junior 200 metre championship in 1960. He soon became a protégé of that legend of Australian track and field Neville Sillitoe, Order of Australia. In 1966 he took the national championship. That years Commonwealth games in Jamaica saw him get a bronze in the 4 X 110 relay. As well as being a fine athlete Peter Norman was a devout Christian, active in the Salvation Army.


On October 16 1968, his 200 metre run in the Mexico Olympics saw him finish second between the American pairing of Tommy Smith and John Carlos. It was run in a time of 20.06 seconds, an Australian record that still stands. But it was his brave actions post run, that immortalised him.


Prior to the presentation ceremony Carlos and Smith spoke to Norman about their plans to make a statement on the podium. The two Afro-American runners were only too aware of the injustice they and their people had suffered. Inspired by the Civil Rights movement the two athletes decided to use this as a forum to state their position on racism, oppression and injustice. They asked Norman if he believed in human rights? He answered in the affirmative. Did he believe in God? He answered in the affirmative.  I’ll stand with you, were his words to John Carlos. On the podium Norman wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, as his did his two fellow medallists.


Smith the gold medallist raised his right fist representing black power, Carlos the bronze medallist raised his left fist for black unity. Smith also wore black socks, with no shoes, symbolising black poverty whilst his black scarf represented black pride. Norman when asked why he participated in this action said, “I believe every man is born equal; and should be treated that way”.


International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage ordered the American pair suspended, then banned from the Olympic village. Two days later Smith and Carlos were expelled from the US Olympic team. It’s worth noting three decades prior, in the 1936 Berlin Olympics when Brundage was President of the United States Olympic Committee, he had no problems with the Nazi salute.  Brundage was oft considered one of America’s leading Nazi sympathisers.


Peter Norman was not a political radical; he was a long standing member of the Salvation Army. But his goodness and humanity saw him stand side by side with Carlos and Smith in their political stand against racism, oppression, and injustice.


Norman’s gesture apparently ruffled a few feathers in Australian Olympic hierarchy. He never again ran for Australia in an Olympic Games. In the years following the events in Mexico he continued running, keeping himself available for Australian Olympic selection. Despite constantly good times, 13 times his runs were within the required qualifying times; he was overlooked for the 1972 Munich Olympics Games.  Some say his non –selection was linked to a slight leg injury that restricted him just prior to the Australian finals. None the less he was still ranked 5th in the world prior to Munich. The facts may never be fully confirmed, but to many his non –selection was a result of his stance in Mexico. Compounding what seemed as being ostracised by officialdom, it’s often been alleged he was not made welcome to the 2000 Sydney Olympics Games. After much criticism the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) felt compelled to make a statement. They said this was due to the AOC not being in a financial position to invite all former Olympians to attend. Maybe they couldn’t invite all previous Olympians, but a Silver Medal winner, who still held an Australian record time, had a pretty decent claim for an invite.  Norman’s apparent snub is still a subject of debate.


Later in his life Norman spoke of his actions supporting Smith and Carlos. “People don’t realise that they sacrificed their lives for a cause they believed in, and it was peaceful and non-violent,” he said. “I was glad I was with them.” They reciprocated their support and friendship for him, with Carlos even stating “Peter Norman was my brother.”


On October 3 2006 Peter Norman died. His two great friends flew to Melbourne, acting as pall bearers, delivering eulogies. The US Track and Field Federation declared October 9, the day of Norman’s funeral, as Peter Norman Day. No similar event, mark of respect, happened in his country of birth.


The Australian parliament in October 11 2012 saw a motion by Australian Labour Party member Andrew Leigh, passed with out dissent, calling for an apology for the treatment Peter Norman endured. It spoke of his athletic carer, his brave stand on racism and inequality, also the apparent lack of respect and support Olympic officialdom provided him post 1968.


Many years later, June 22 this year, the AOC presented an Order of Merit to his family for his actions. The Order of Merit is awarded to a person the AOC executive believes has achieved remarkable merit in the world of sport. This was indeed for his brave performance back in Mexico.


We are coming up to Peter Norman week, which runs from Tuesday October 9, until Tuesday October 16. If you’d like more information re events during the 2018 Peter Norman week I recommend the following link:





  1. Glen, many thanks for this wonderful reminder of a great man.
    He taught for many years at Williamstown High School.
    Living only a couple of blocks from the Williamstown Town Hall, I recall well the day of his funeral.

    I will call a spade a spade: Peter Norman’s post-1968 treatment by the Australian Olympic and athletics fraternities is one of the most shameful stains on Australian sport, reaching a crescendo in 2000.

    The Australian parliament passed a belated posthumous official apology to Norman in 2012, much to the disgust of the AOC.

  2. A small correction Smokie
    Peter taught Physical Education at Williamstown TECHNICAL School not the High
    He was a dedicated,loyal member of the TECHNICAL TEACHERS ASSOCIATION OF VICTORIA
    Peter ran the annual Form 1 Introductory School camps year,had a slotcar track for the kids under the School gym/hall and loved amateur dramatiics(played a brilliant) villain)
    He was a Carlton supporter who loved joking with the Tech boys who were almost exclusively Doggies fans
    Great arrival Glen

  3. Thanks Neil.

    I also believe that Andrew Webster will be releasing a book on Peter Norman soon.

  4. “Salute”, a documentary about Peter Norman, made by his nephew, Matthew, is very moving and probably the best sports doco I’ve seen.

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