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Mon, 06.15.1942

Peter Norman, Olympic Athlete, and Activist born

Peter Norman

*Peter Norman was born on this date in 1942. He was a white-Australian track athlete.

Peter George Norman grew up in Coburg, a suburb of Melbourne in Victoria, and was educated at The Southport School. Initially an apprentice butcher, Norman later became a teacher and worked for the Victorian Department of Sport and Recreation towards the end of his life. At the 200 meters at the 1968 Olympics semi-finals, Norman finished the race in second place at 20.06 seconds, his best performance ever. This is an Australian record that still stands today.  On October 16, 1968, U.S. athlete Tommie Smith won the 200-meter final with a world-record time of 19.83 seconds. Norman finished second in 20.06 s, and U.S. athlete John Carlos was in third place in 20.10 s. Norman's time was his all-time personal best and an Australian record that still stands.

After the race, the three athletes went to the medal podium for their medals to be presented; Carlos and Smith had told Norman what they were planning to do during the ceremony. As journalist Martin Flanagan wrote, "They asked Norman if he believed in human rights. He said he did. They asked him if he believed in God.  Norman, who came from a Salvation Army background, believed strongly in God.

We knew what we would do was far greater than any athletic feat. He said, 'I'll stand with you." Carlos said he expected to see fear in Norman's eyes.  He didn't; "I saw love." On the way out to the medal ceremony, Norman saw the Olympic Project for Human Rights OPHR badge being worn by Paul Hoffman, a white member of the US Rowing Team, and asked him if he could wear it. On the podium, during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," Smith and Carlos joined in a Black Power salute.

He won the silver medal in the 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.  He was a five-time Australian 200-meter champion.  He is also known for supporting African Americans John Carlos and Tommie Smith when they made their famous raised-fist gesture at the 1968 Olympics medal ceremony.  Norman suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute after Carlos left his pair in the Olympic Village. This is why Smith raised his right fist while Carlos raised his left.

Norman died of a heart attack on October 3, 2006, in Melbourne at 64. US Track and Field Federation proclaimed October 9, 2006, the date of his funeral, as Peter Norman Day.  Thirty-eight years after the three made history, Smith and Carlos gave eulogies and were pallbearers at Norman's funeral.  When his second wife, Jan, survived his death, Norman, their daughters, Belinda and Emma, his first wife, Ruth, and children, Gary, Sandra, and Janita, and four grandchildren.

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