Most people remember the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City as a place where athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlosraised their fists on the medal podium as a form of protest against racial inequality in the United States.
Not many people remember the speeches that Wyomia Tyus gave at the Mexico City Olympics.
Tyus is another track and field runner. Her main event was the 100m sprint. She won gold in the event at the 1964 and the 1968 Olympics. She was the first person to win back-to-back golds in the event.
Growing up in Georgia, you would think that it would be hard for a black woman to find some sort of peace in a country segregated by Jim Crow, and even harder when one lived in the South. Her father taught her to never turn away from challenges. After he passed away, Tyus wasn’t the same. He was her “rock”, as she called it.
Her running career started when Tyus was 15. She had met Ed Temple, the track coach at Tennessee State University. He was known for sending winners to the Olympics. He invited her to train with a few other high school athletes. Among them was world famous Wilma Rudolph, who won three golds at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
Eventually Tyus would go to the Olympics. She won gold in Tokyo in 1964 at age 19. The next Olympics four years later were calling for Black American athletes to boycott the games because of the issues they were facing at home. Instead, they chose to go, and create some of the biggest protests that the sports world have ever seen.
Tyus’s 100m win came before Smith and Carlos took a stand on the podium. Instead of wearing the team uniform shorts, her shorts were all black. It was a small gesture, and not many people noticed. After Smith and Carlos put their fists in the air, Tyus was asked what she thought. She said;
“What is there to think? They made a statement. We all know that we’re fighting for human rights. That’s what they stood for on the victory stand — human rights for everyone, everywhere. And to support that and to support them, I’m dedicating my medal to them. I believe in what they did.”
After the 1968 Olympics, the athletes who protested were not welcomed back warmly. Smith and Carlos were banned from competing. Tyus was not, but she was not going to stop fighting for racial equality. She moved to California and helped to establish the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Today, Tyus looks back on the 1968 Olympics, and the fight her and fellow athletes took to push a social justice movement forward. Growing up in a world so separate and seeing it make the pushes towards equality has been a humbling and gratifying experience. She says “Here it is, 50 years later, and a lot more people are aware of what’s going on. A lot more people are standing up and speaking out. In order for this to be a better world for us to live in, that’s what we have to do.”