October 16, 1968
I CANNOT SAY what I remember most about that night in Mexico City because I remember everything. How could I possibly forget anything about it? Every detail, from the position of the starting blocks to the feeling of crossing the finish line—and after I crossed the finish line. What happened that night, October 16, 1968, was history, and you’d better believe I was aware of what was going on every second.
It began long before the starting blocks on the Olympic Stadium track for the men’s 200-meter final. But the starting blocks are, yes, a good place to start. As I stood behind the blocks, my whole life went through my head, as a child in Texas and in California, as a student in grammar school and high school, and all my experiences in college, especially the political times, and now, 24 years old and the fastest man in the world, standing at the starting line at the XIXth Olympiad ready to prove it. You’d be surprised when you are to call upon everything, how quickly you can remember nothing. But I had no choice; I had to remember this. It would be devastating for me to forget any of it; I could not forget, because to forget was to lose sight of what I was there for. Of course, I was there to win the race, but winning the race meant much more than picking up the gold medal. It meant the sacrifices that Tommie Smith had gone through the previous year and a half—the catcalls, the threats on my life, the letters in the mail, the mock tickets back to Africa, all the different names they were calling us. I was afraid for my wife Denise and my son Kevin, who was just a baby then; I was afraid for their lives because everyone knew where we lived.
Usually a runner just before a race will stretch, shake, jiggle, somehow exercise the legs, arms, muscles, ligaments, tendons—keep the body loose and warmed up. But I was exercising my thought processes,