Who is Peter Norman?
You’re probably asking yourself the same thing, who is Peter Norman? I’ve wanted to write about Peter for a long time but until now I haven’t had the platform.
With the olympics well underway I thought it might be time to set the record straight about Peter Norman’s story.
Most people would have seen this photo. It’s been used as a powerful symbol for equality. It has been featured in numerous films, tv shows and has inspired many people (including myself).
You’ll probably recognise the two men with their fists in the air (Tommie Smith and John Carlos). But what about the third man? The one on the left? That’s Peter Norman! He’s one of the most unsung heroes in all of Australian sport.
Going into the Olympics in 1968 Peter Norman wasn’t expected to medal, he ran a time of 20.06 and finished in second place. Remarkably, it still stands as an Australia record to this day.
When it was time for the medal ceremony John and Tommie explained to Peter what they were about to do, expecting Peter to disagree. However he surprised them and said “I’ll stand with you” and took it a step further and asked if he could wear a badge in support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights.
Little did the athletes know this would be the last time they would participate in an Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Avery Brundage deemed the protest inappropriate for the Olympics and suspended both U.S athletes and banned them from the Olympic village. It’s also been reported that their medals were stripped. However, Carlos confirmed this was not true stating that his medal is with his mother.
For Peter it would seem that he suffered the longest. Upon his return to Australia he was treated like an outsider. Simply for being involved and supporting something he believed was right.
As a result he found it difficult to find work. But he continued to compete in athletics.
He was not selected in the 1972 Olympic team despite running qualifying times on 13 occasions between 1969 and 1972. However at the Australian championships he failed to run a qualifying time, finishing third behind Greg Lewis and Gary Eddy. He didn’t inform selectors he was carrying a knee injury and ultimately missed selection.
He retired from athletics after missing selection in 1972 and took to playing Australian Rules Football. He played 67 games for West Brunswick Football Club before contracting gangrene from a torn achilles tendon.
With work still difficult to come by and a crippling leg injury. Peter fell into a deep state of depression and developed an addition to alcohol and pain killers.
He struggled with addiction and depression for the rest of his life.
In the lead up to the 2000 Olympic games he was invited to attend only once the U.S Olympic committee discovered he would not be attending.
In 2003 San Jose State University unveiled a statue commemorating the 1968 protest. The University left Peter’s podium empty as he wanted people to be able take a stand the same way he did back in 1968.
Peter passed away in 2006. Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave eulogies and carried his coffin at his funeral. John Carlos remarked that “there’s no one in the nation of Australia that should be honoured, recognised, appreciated more than Peter Norman for his humanitarian concerns, his character, his strength and his willingness to be a sacrificial lamb for justice.”
Finally in 2012 he was offered an apology from the Australian Parliament for his treatment by the Australian Olympic Committee.
This story really hits home for me. I’m a very proud Australian and I’m extremely proud of what Peter Norman did on that day in 1968. But I can’t help but feel shame at the way he was treated after his bravery. Peter should have been celebrated but instead he was ostracised.
I want his story heard and I hope you enjoyed reading about him.