For 44 years later, the image of the two Americans standing on the medal podium, black-gloved fists raised firmly in the air, is arguably the singular most iconic image an Olympic Games has ever produced. And while why they were standing there – Smith having won the gold in the 200 meters, Carlos the bronze – may have long been forgotten, their salute has not.
Today, Smith and Carlos insist the gesture was an homage to human rights, not solely a black power salute. Whatever it meant didn't sit well with the International Olympic Committee, which viewed it as a "breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit." Or, more to the point, it was a political statement in what's purported to be an apolitical movement.
Amidst a swirl of controversy, Smith and Carlos left the Olympic village in Mexico City before the 1968 Games were over. But if the IOC and its president Avery Brundage were trying to send their own message, they failed, because while the American's exit may have been premature, the image of them standing on that podium continues to endure.
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