Peter Norman's Great Gesture

Gesture spurs sprinter to excel
Ron Reed

MINUTES after he impressively won the 400m at the MCG on Saturday night, John Steffensen was approached by a man in a suit he had never met – but had always wanted to.

His heart skipped a beat when Peter Norman introduced himself and handed him a framed photograph and a DVD, saying: “I thought you might like this.”
Steffensen, 23, couldn’t believe what he was seeing and hearing.

Norman, whose central role in one of the best-known stories in Olympic history has ensured he will be forever famous, has long been his sporting hero.

After winning the silver medal in the 200m at the Mexico City Games in 1968, Norman stood shoulder to shoulder with the winner Tommie Smith and third placegetter John Carlos as they carried out their hugely controversial protest at the medal presentation.

Mounting the victory dais barefooted, to symbolise poverty, the Americans wore civil rights badges and when their national anthem was played each raised one black-gloved hand in the black power salute.

Norman, then 26 years old, also wore a badge in support, a gesture that later caused him some grief – but never the slightest regret.

The three are still firm friends and late last year Norman returned to the US for another of their irregular reunions, obtaining a number of copies of the photograph of the incident.

Steffensen is now the proud owner of one of them, signed by all three men, as well as a DVD of each of the rounds of the long-ago race.

Norman decided on the gesture after he learned that Steffensen had been spotted wearing a T-shirt bearing the same timeless image.

Steffensen, too, is an Olympic silver medallist – he was part of the 400m relay team in Athens.

Born in Perth but the son of South African parents, he is dark-skinned himself, wears his hair in dreadlocks and trains in Los Angeles with renowned coach John Smith and his stable of top sprinters, most if not all of whom are black.

Asked if he had ever experienced racism, he said: “No, because I live in a great country – it’s why my parents came here. South Africa has got all that nonsense. We’re lucky to be in a country like Australia.”

His eyes opened wide when Norman told him: “I think you’re going to be great.”

Asked what he saw in the youngster, Norman said: "He’s got a lot to offer the sport. He’s really going places. He’s got a few things a few of our guys haven’t got – a little bit of fire, a little bit of get up and go.

"And he backs up what he says with actions.

"A lot of guys are gonnas but so far he’s delivered.

“If he keeps on doing that, who knows – he could get a gold in four weeks.”

Steffensen, who won the MCG event easily in a smart 45.44sec, comfortably clear of one of his main Games rivals, Trinidad’s Ato Modibo, said Norman had been his inspiration since he first became involved in athletics.

One of the things he admires is that Norman ran 20.10, which is still the Australian record nearly 38 years later. Norman, though, reckons that’s an embarrassment for the sport.

But the protest is the real grabber. “It was such an historical moment, for athletics, history, sport, life in general,” Steffensen said.

"I feel like I’m fighting for my rights on the track.

“I want to prove to people that track and field is an exciting sport, to restore the faith people had in it back then.”


That depends on how much advertisement is made around this item. Posts in iaaf and trackandfieldnews forums may help to make the bids rise.

Pictures were sold during the recent ebay charity auction by IAAF, and some Mexico’68 legends did donations : Bob Beamon signed limited edition picture of 8.90m was sold at 329.76USD, Dick Fosbury’s signed picture 123.66USD.
The picture you describe should at least get as much as the above.