Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Smith and Carlos 46 Years Later

Track and Field Autographs of a Lifetime 
Tommy Smith, Olympic gold medalist 
John Carlos, Olympic bronze medalist
men's 200m 
on the podium in Mexico City, 1968

Program signed at the dedication of the Echo Summit, CA, site of the
1968 US Olympic High Altitude Training Center and Olympic Trials
June 27, 2014

Photo copyright 2014 Mark Cullen, All Rights Reserved

Audio recording of remarks by Smith and Carlos at the Echo Summit ceremony:

My account of that day, and of their time
  Echoes of Silence
by Mark Cullen
Friday, June 27, 2014

The 1968 US Men’s Olympic track and field team, arguably the greatest ever assembled, was honored today with the recognition of the Echo Summit, CA, US Men’s Track and Field Olympic Trials and high-altitude training site as a California Historical Landmark.

A crowd of several hundred gathered to celebrate the track and field legends who put their stamp on US social, cultural, and athletic history.
Members of the ’68 team in attendance were Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Ed Caruthers, Norm Tate, Reynaldo Brown, Larry Young, Tracy Smith, Mel Pender, Ed Burke, Geoff Vanderstock, and Bill Toomey.

Smith and Carlos were the featured speakers.
Four world records were set during the Olympic Trials at the 7382’ elevation of the Echo Summit site, chosen for its nearly identical elevation to that of Olympic host Mexico City.
The ceremony was at the same time touching and moving, high-spirited and celebratory. It had the look and feel of a family reunion. The eloquent remarks of the speakers were greeted with repeated and sustained standing ovations by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd.
Bob Burns, former Sacramento Bee reporter and the force behind the recognition of Echo Summit, said, “Few teams mirrored the social climate of their times as much as the ’68 Olympic track team did the 1960s.”
Jill Geer, USATF Chief Public Affairs Officer, cited “the importance of these people not only to sport but to society.” Geer pointed out that while the team is rightly noted for its 12 Olympic gold medalists, 20 of its team members have been inducted into the USATF Hall of Fame. “This team was so good that you didn’t have to win a gold medal to make it to the Hall of Fame.”
California state historian William Burg noted that of over 1,000 California historic sites, Echo Summit is “the only one associated with both sports and civil rights history.”
South Lake Tahoe Mayor Pro-Tem Brooke Laine paid tribute to Walt Little, South Lake Tahoe’s Recreation Director in the 1950s and ‘60s, who was instrumental in convincing Bill Bowerman, Director of the US Olympic High Altitude Training Program, to accept the Echo Summit bid.
Little’s sons, Walt Jr. and Bill, in a stirring memorial, revealed that their family had lost their house as their father had used mortgage funds to help pay for athletes’ food.
Walt Little, Jr., said that their father was motivated “because of the Olympians and what they stood for. Dad carved his dream of a track and field arena out of the ice, the snow, and the trees. Echo Summit became the most beautiful track and field arena the world has ever seen.”
John Carlos lauded Little as “an icon in the world of athletics.”
“We are proud to have been a small part of your success,” Little, Jr., said to the assembled athletes. “Welcome home.”
In 1968, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medal winners in the 200m, took the victory stand and raised their glove-covered fists in silent protest, I was awestruck at the peaceful eloquence of their statement.
They spoke to the whole world without uttering a single word.
The next day, the US Olympic Committee, under threat by the IOC of having the entire US team disqualified from the Olympics, dismissed Smith and Carlos from the team and they were forced to leave Mexico City immediately.
My youth was marked by political violence: the assassination of the President when I was 11 and of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy when I was 16. Shortly before the 1968 Olympic Trials began, there were riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Upon the opening of the Olympics in Mexico City, protests there were brutally suppressed. The 1963 March on Washington was peaceful, but by 1968 there was a growing divide in both the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements over what kinds of action to take.
That discussion was reflected in the choices made by athletes at Echo Summit. To boycott the Olympics or not? African-American athletes were under heavy pressure to do so. But all made the same choice: to represent their country in Mexico City.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos have been united for life by their singular act as young men. They have traversed the territory from outcasts to heroes. Their “protest on the victory stand in Mexico City is one of the iconic images of the 1960s and the civil rights movement,” said Burns.
After their peaceful protest, Smith and Carlos paid a heavy personal price, and it was common to find them denounced in the US media for what were characterized as unpatriotic acts.
“Mr. Smith and I, in particular, we were vilified," Carlos said. He noted the irony of the fact that now they are regarded as patriots: “All the individuals on this team are patriots… In many ways they tried to divide our team: these guys are civil rights activists, these guys are athletes. These guys are for a boycott, these guys are not for a boycott.”
“I’m just here to let you know now that we are one. We have been one all along.”
Smith and Carlos reflected on their days at Echo Summit. Both expressed gratitude and appreciation to the US Forest Service for their support of the ‘100 Days at Tahoe’ in 1968 as well as today’s ceremony. “Look around and you see the goodness,” Smith said to the many youth foresters who staffed the event. “My heart is so full now.”
Smith remembered what it was like to take the turn from Highway 50 to the track at Echo Summit.
“I hated to see that turn because that meant I had to train against him, and to train against John Carlos is no fun at all! You would have to run a world best just to stay in his shadow,” said Smith.
Smith noted the humor that came with practicing at a site that was carved out of a forest. When Bob Seagren came down from a 17’ pole vault clearance, Smith recalled, “I thought he had fallen out of a tree!”
To say that they raised the bar for each other is to put it mildly. “Tommie and John had to run awfully fast to put themselves in a position to mount a protest that will outlast any record,” said Burns.
Carlos paid tribute to the US athletes who watched the Olympics from home.
'I have to remember those individuals who did not make the team… It’s just unfortunate that God put so many of us in a cluster and we could only pick three. But it didn’t stop us in terms of who we were as human beings... as civil libertarians... as people that were concerned about humanity.'
Smith reflected on his remaining time on this earth. “I hope that it’s longer than I feel sometimes… Sometimes you get up in the morning, you head for the door - and it never gets to you!”
Carlos concluded by noting that “the only downfall that we had here is the fact that we didn’t have a co-ed team. It was a shame that the women that represented this nation did not have a chance to experience the beauty, the love, the understanding and bonding that we had.”
*          *          *
In 1968, their silent act of courage echoed around the world;
it reverberates still.
Today, it echoed among these trees, one last time.

photo credit:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Billy Mills 50th Anniversary Tribute

Congratulations to Billy Mills
on the 50th Anniversary
of his historic Tokyo Olympic 10,000 win
October 14, 1964

*Three Videos
*Most Memorable Quote

The second time I saw 1964 Olympic 10,000m champion Billy Mills was at the 2014 US Outdoor National Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, CA, when he hosted a 10k fund-raising race for his foundation, Running Strong for American Indian Youth. It was held in conjunction with the men’s and women’s outdoor track 10,000m national championship races.

One of the highlights of the championships was watching Mills watch the last lap of the women’s race, a classic, dramatic duel between Kim Conley and Jordan Hasay won by Conley in the last few meters of the race – sound familiar?!
Sacramento resident Mills was much in evidence during the championships. He served as an ambassador of the sport as he engaged fans of all ages in conversations in the stands.

I was privileged and honored to have the opportunity to introduce Mills to a large and enthusiastic crowd of high school runners and their coaches in Everett, Washington, US, in 2005. Here are my remarks, edited for print.

Billy Mills Introduction
Everett, WA, Civic Center Auditorium
March 7, 2005

Every Olympics has an image – a snapshot – a moment seared in our minds forever – that one iconic moment that captures the spirit of that quadrennium’s games.
Voice of

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were a games of favorites and of the expected.

Al Oerter won his third consecutive gold medal in the discus, while Betty Cuthbert, Australia’s darling of the ’56 Melbourne Games, returned to claim her fourth gold.

Peter Snell won his second 800m title and added the 1500m crown. Bob Hayes tied the world record in the 100m and anchored the U.S. 4x100m relay to victory with a split of 8.9 seconds.

Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila wore shoes this time as he strode to his second consecutive marathon victory.
Yet for all these outstanding accomplishments, the lasting image of the ’64 Olympics is none of these.
Billy Mills, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Although Pine Ridge is very rich in culture and spirit, it has long been recognized as one of the poorest communities in America with unemployment reaching 80%.

Yet it was here that a future Olympic champion and Olympic and world record holder took his first steps towards greatness.

Mills was orphaned by the age of twelve and was sent to boarding schools. He graduated from Haskell Indian School, where he was such a prominent and successful runner that he earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas.

While he didn’t win a major collegiate race in track or cross country, he earned All-America honors seven times.

Upon graduating from Kansas, Mr. Mills received his commission as an officer in the United States Marine Corps and continued his training.

As second qualifier on his own Olympic team, and with a personal best almost a minute behind that of the favorite, Australian world record holder Ron Clarke, he arrived in Tokyo well under the radar screen.

In spite of the absence of major championships on his resume, he had trained since he was twelve with a focus and determination with only one goal in mind: an Olympic gold medal.

The world was about to see the greatest upset in Olympic history. Yet Tokyo was much more than an upset: it was an accomplishment and an achievement never yet matched by a U.S. man or woman.

Today, Mr. Mills is an accomplished businessman, author, and national spokesperson for Running Strong for American Indian Youth (, a division of Christian Relief Services.

In this role, he has helped raise over 500 million dollars in cash and in-kind gifts for charities worldwide, and through the Running Strong Foundation has raised over $75,000,000 for the Pine Ridge Reservation.

He has received five honorary doctorates, is a member of five Halls of Fame, and is the recipient of the highest honor the University of Kansas Alumni Association can bestow: the Distinguished Service Citation, which acknowledges outstanding achievement for the betterment of humankind (and in 2012 was honored by President Obama with the Presidential Citizens Medal for public service).

While many discussions of Mr. Mills’ running achievements seem to end with Tokyo, it’s important to note that the following year, while winning our national championships with a dramatic lean at the tape over his Tokyo roommate, Gerry Lindgren, he set a world record for six miles of 27:11.6.

A major motion picture has been made about Billy Mills titled “Running Brave”, and it has been a very positive and inspirational influence on American youth.

I am old enough to have been inspired before the movie. As a kid of twelve in 1964, I watched, transfixed, the dramatic race from Tokyo.

Twelve - an age when the sports heroes of one’s youth are defined, and when wanting to grow up to be like them becomes part and parcel of the fiber of one’s youthful dreams and daily inspiration.

I’ll leave the telling of the tale to Mr. Mills, as well as to the video you’re about to see, but I’ve long thought his stunning upset was best summed up by the official who came up to him afterwards and asked: “Who are you?”

To give our many young runners in the audience some context of the nature of his upset, suffice it to say that he set a personal record by nearly 2 seconds per lap for the 25 lap race.

We’ll see this evening that Billy Mills’ life is about far more than one moment of greatness; it’s about what he’s done with the platform which that moment of greatness provided him - or, to put it far more accurately, which he provided for himself.

Greatness, with Billy Mills, is a lifelong experience.

Before we hear from our distinguished guest, we will play a short video of his Olympic 10,000m triumph to recapture this dramatic moment.

Look for the two incidents of interference on the last lap, look for the finest 30m kick in 10k history, look to see what lane he finishes in, and most of all, look at his face.

Look at his face to see what happens when you are Running Strong, Running Brave, and running with unfettered joy.

Look for Billy Mills; the number on his singlet is 722:

See? It really IS ok to finish in Lane 4!
(I adlibbed: “no matter what your coach may tell you” – much to the delight of the thousand high school runners in the audience. Mills enjoyed the comment and came to the stage with a huge smile on his face.)

Let’s Welcome Billy Mills!
                                                          *     *     *     *     *

Three videos, with notes

The first (above, in the introduction) is the classic black and white version from the television broadcast, with announcer Dick Bank’s famous near-hysterical call; it shows particularly well how badly Mills was thrown off stride by Clarke’s push on the last lap (Runner

A color version complete with its own dramatic music; much higher resolution than the first video. Stay with this one to the very end to see Mills’ famous questioning gesture to an official immediately after the race (
A wonderful balance of past and present Billy Mills (

                                                           *     *     *     *     *

Mills’ Most Memorable Quote

What follows is from a Billy Mills interview posted at, Here and Now, Robin Young interviewer (transcribed directly from the audio interview, with one difference here from what is printed on the WBUR website).

Of Mills’ many memorable quotes, this one I carry closest, heartbreaking as it is. This is Mills’ father to eight-year-old Billy after his mother died.

As I mourned my mother, my dad told me I had broken wings.

He said,
“I’m going to share something with you and if you follow it, someday, someday you may have wings of an eagle.”

He told me to look beyond the hurt, the hate, the jealousy, self-pity.
All of those emotions destroy you.

He said,
“Look deeper and way down deeper where the dreams lie.
You’ve got to find a dream son.
It’s the pursuit of a dream that will heal broken souls.”