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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 July 2018

Australia honours late 'Black Power' hero Peter Norman with 'overdue' Olympics award

Norman stood in solidarity with US track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos at 1968 Games during silent civil rights protest on medal dais

In this October 16, 1968 photo, US athletes Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos, right, stare downward during the playing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze in the 200 metre run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. On the left is Peter Norman. AP Photo
In this October 16, 1968 photo, US athletes Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos, right, stare downward during the playing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze in the 200 metre run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. On the left is Peter Norman. AP Photo

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) on Saturday awarded a posthumous Order of Merit to Peter Norman, a record-holding sprinter who supported two Americans in their famous Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

At the Games Norman split US track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos to snatch silver in a 20.06 seconds, setting a national record for the 200-metre sprint that still stands after 50 years.

The AOC said it was Norman's decision to stand in solidarity with Smith and Carlos during their silent civil rights protest on the medal dais that further etched him into Australian Olympic folklore.

During the award ceremony, Smith and Carlos both put a black-gloved fist in the air. Norman backed their gesture, wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in support, but was then frozen out of future Games selection and airbrushed from Australian Olympic history until recently.

"This is an overdue award there is no doubt. The respect for Peter and his actions is still enormous to this day," AOC president John Coates told the AGM in Sydney on Saturday. "He believed in human rights throughout his life.

"We lost Peter in 2006 but we should never lose sight of his brave stand that day and further as a five-time national champion, his Australian 200-metres record set in Mexico has never been matched.

"His athletic achievement should never be underestimated."

In 2012, Canberra passed a motion of apology to Norman "for the treatment he received upon his return to Australia, and the failure to fully recognise his inspirational role before his untimely death in 2006".

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Australian Olympic officials deny Norman was ever blacklisted or shunned, and was only cautioned at the time to be careful about his public statements.

Coates also awarded Orders of Merit to Olympic heroes Raelene Boyle, Cathy Freeman, Shane Gould and Ian Thorpe.

An Order of Merit is awarded to a person who in the opinion of the AOC Executive has achieved remarkable merit in the sporting world, either through personal achievement or contribution to the development of sport.