The 1968 Mexico City Olympics

A stamp commemorating the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. Editorial credit: MarkauMark /
A stamp commemorating the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. Editorial credit: MarkauMark /

The 1968 Summer Olympics were held in Mexico City, Mexico. The Mexico City Olympics were an international multi-sport event - the first to be held in Latin America and in a Spanish speaking nation. They were also the first Olympic games to utilize an all-weather track rather than the traditional cinder track for all track and field events. The games were held during the month of October and was the third Olympic game that was held during the final quarter of the year (after the 1956 and 1964 Games in Melbourne and Tokyo). The opening ceremony was conducted on October 12 and the closing ceremony on October 27. Mexico City was selected over Detroit, Lyon, and Buenos Aires. They were also the first Olympic games to take place at a high altitude (Mexico City is 2,240 meters above the sea level).

Highlights of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games

Countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Kuwait were among the first-timers at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics Games. The event attracted over 5,000 participants composed of 4,735 male and 781 female athletes from 112 countries. They took part in 172 events from 18 different sports. Another notable highlight of the event was the separate participation of East and West Germany.

The United States topped the medal standing, receiving 107 medals. The Soviet Union ranked second with 91 medals while Hungary and Japan had 32 and 25 medals respectively. Mexico, the host country, was ranked 15th, receiving a total of 9 medals. The high altitude of Mexico City had an adverse influence on field and track events. It was an added advantage to athletes who trained in high altitude areas such as Kip Keino of Kenya who won silver and gold medals in the games. Drug testing and female verifications were also first done during this 1968 Olympic Games.

The Black Power Salute and Protests

During the 1968 Olympics, two black American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who managed a podium finish in the 200-meter race event, had a demonstration of what was referred to as the Black Power Salute. In the award ceremony, they turned on the podium to face the direction of their national flags. As the United States National Anthem played, each of them raised a fist with a black glove on. They kept the fists raised until the anthem was completed. Furthermore, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and an Australian Silver medalist Peter Norman had human rights badges pinned on their jackets. The two Americans received a lot of criticism back home due to their actions that showed Black pride and solidarity.

Apart from the Black Power Salute incident, there were several other demonstrations during the Olympics. These included student protests in the streets, which led to the death of hundreds of young protesters. The student protesters were against their government funding the event instead of funding their social programs. Due to the gestures and demonstrations of the Black athletes, the 1968 Olympics games in Mexico City are considered to be the most politically-oriented games in the history of modern Olympic games.


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