Dates: October 12-27
Total Athletes: 5,531
The Games of Mexico City would come during some of the most politically
volatile times in the history of the world. Unrest was rampant around the
world. It was also at that time when leaders like Robert Kennedy and Martin
Luther King were assassinated, the U.S. was involved in the highly
controversial Vietnam War and in the home of the Games, and there were protests
over the poverty in Mexico.
Thousands of students organized protests about the funds being used for the
Olympics rather than the poverty that was running rampant throughout Mexico.
The Mexican army clashed with more than 10,000 demonstrators on October 2,
1968, just 10 days prior to the start of the Games in downtown Mexico City,
killing 260 people and injuring another 1,200.
Another controversial element of these Games was the altitude of Mexico City
(7,347 feet), the highest in Olympic history. Many countries complained about
unfair advantages and even requested the site be changed.
The thin air did seem to contribute to the high number of world records
eclipsed during these Games. Twenty-six of the 30 scheduled track and field
events recorded either Olympic or World records. Virtually all races of 1,500
meters or less in both the men and women established new records.
Bob Beamon was one of the greatest beneficiaries of the thin air, shattering
the world record jump of Ralph Boston by nearly two feet with a jump of 29-2
1/2 feet. Dick Fosbury captured an Olympic world record in the high jump (7
feet, 4 1/2 inches).
The U.S. completely dominated the swimming pool. Americans took 58 of 102
possible medals, including 23 gold medals.
This would be the Games that would launch the career of another great American
boxer, George Foreman, a future heavyweight champion. Foreman would gain
respect by carrying an American flag around the ring after winning the gold
medal, a direct response to what had gone on earlier in the Games by other
Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos will long be remembered not for their
feat on the track, in which they the gold and silver in the 200-meter final,
but rather their total lack of respect for their country they displayed on the
medal stand. Smith and Carlos used their medal appearance as a platform for
what they believed to be black oppression and the civil rights injustices
against blacks in the U.S. During the ceremony, the duo mounted the stand with
their warmup pants rolled to their knees, wearing black socks and wore civil
rights buttons. During the playing of the national anthem, the pair bowed their
heads and raised their fists to the sky.
This performance was extended to the 4 x 100 meter relay team, who captured the
gold medal for the Americans in world record time. Vince Matthews, Ronald
Freeman, Larry James and Lee Evans also took the stand and raised their fists
during the playing of the national anthem.
Aside from that, there were also some incredible performances turned in by
other athletes. Twenty-three-year-old American Wyomia Tyus. Tyus defeated four
other one-time world record holders in the world record time of 11.0 seconds to
become the first person in history to win two straight Olympic sprint titles.
Al Oerter, who had won his first discus gold medal in 1956 as a 20-year old in
Melbourne, captured his fourth and final gold during these Games.
African runners would dominate all track events over 1,500 meters due to the
training they undertake in the high altitudes of Africa. Africa's Kip Keino
Kipchoge recorded the largest margin of victory (20 meters) in addition to
establishing a world record in the 1,500 meters. The only exception was the
5,000-meter, which went to Tunisia's Mohammed Gammoudi, who had trained all
summer in the French Alps.
Mexico City, in many ways, would shape future Olympics in the introduction of
gender and drug testing, the incredible growth in sports medicine ignited by
altitude training, the under-the-table payments made to athletes by shoe
companies, and the incredible display by African runners.