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Tue, 06.06.1944

Tommie Smith, Track Sprinter, and Activist born

Tommie Smith

*On Tommie Smith was born on this date in 1944.  He was a Black track & field athlete, wide receiver in the American Football League, and community activist.  

Tommie C. Smith was born in Clarksville, Texas, the seventh of twelve children born to Richard and Dora Smith. He suffered from pneumonia as a child but still became an athlete.  At Lemoore High School in Lemoore, California, Smith set most of the school's track records, many of which remain. He won the 440-yard dash in the 1963 CIF California State Meet. He was voted Lemoore's "Most Valuable Athlete" in basketball, football, and track and field and was also voted vice president of his senior class.  He earned a scholarship to San José State University.  

In 1966 while at San Jose State, Smith set a world best of 19.5 seconds in the 200 m straight, which he ran on a cinder track.   On June 11, 1966, Smith set the record for 200 meters and 220 yards around a turn at 20.0, the first man to do that in 20 seconds. He traveled to Japan for the 1967 Summer Universiade and won the 200 m gold medal. He repeated as AAU 200-meter champion in 1968 and made the Olympic team.  At the 1968 Summer Olympics, Smith, aged 24, won the 200-meter sprint finals and a gold medal in 19.83 seconds, the first time the 20-second barrier was broken legally. His Black Power salute with John Carlos atop the medal podium to protest racism and injustice against African Americans in the United States was seen as politicizing the Olympic Games.

It remains a symbolic moment in the history of the Black Power arm of the 20th-century American Civil Rights movement.  After his track career, he enjoyed a brief stint in the Canadian Football League but retired due to injury. He became involved with the United States Olympic Committee and helped to organize the 1984 Summer Olympics. Following this, he became a track coach at Palm Springs High School. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2003.  

To become a Coach

To become a Professional Athlete

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