Lifestyle

Sprinter Peter Norman honoured

By Tara Whitsed

Fifty years after playing a key role in one of the most iconic sporting moments of the 20th century, the late Australian sprinter and human rights advocate Peter Norman will be honoured with a statue in Melbourne.

After finishing second in the 200m at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Norman stood in solidarity on the dais with American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists to raise awareness of racial inequality.

The news was welcomed by Notre Dame College teacher Steve Bognar, eight years on from a two-year project in which his students spread the word about Norman’s sportsmanship.

‘‘We’ve come so far with that movement of discrimination and this really demonstrates that,’’ he said.

Mr Bognar said students took on the project as part of the school’s religious education studies in which they were required to study a modern-day prophet after he was recommended by fellow teacher Malcolm Duncan.

‘‘It was a one-off type act that he did, but we recognised that was something to do with background,’’ he said.

At the time of the Olympics, Norman received backlash following the incident.

Wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights pin on his tracksuit, Norman told gold medallist Smith and third placegetter Carlos he supported their stance.

Smith and Carlos were sent home from Mexico in disgrace by the US Olympic Committee, while Norman never competed again.

‘‘He wasn’t invited to any of the opening ceremonies or anything,’’ Mr Bognar said.

Athletics Australia counterpart Mark Arbib said the recognition for Norman, who was posthumously awarded the Order of Merit by the Australian Olympic Committee earlier this year, was long overdue.

‘‘Peter Norman’s decision to stand in solidarity with USA athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico 1968 helps define our strong and diverse identity,’’ Arbib said.

‘‘His actions are a fine legacy for the athletics family to commemorate, celebrate and aspire to.’’

October 9 will now be recognised in Australia as Peter Norman Day, as it is in the United States.

The statue, to be erected outside Lakeside Stadium, is expected to be completed mid-next year.

Norman’s time of 20.06 seconds from the 1968 Olympic final still stands as the Australian record.

Daughter Janita said the family had always taken enormous pride in Norman’s actions.

‘‘My father was someone who held strong beliefs and who spoke his mind and yet it’s the image of him standing there silently on the podium that has made such an impact on our lives,’’ she said.

‘‘But we are also grateful that his athletic achievement is recognised.’’

Notre Dame College students were fortunate enough to be visited by Norman’s nephew Matt Norman in 2010 who had produced the award-winning documentary Salute about his uncle.

At the time he said his uncle was little known in Australia outside sporting circles.

‘‘He believed in equal human rights, he didn’t understand what difference colour made to anything,’’ Mr Norman said of his uncle.

‘‘I said to him before he died that I wanted him to take a bow for what he did.’’

— with AAP