We welcome back TKFLASTANI author Harry Blutstein to talk about his latest book Games of Discontent: Protests, Boycotts, and Politics at the 196 Mexico Olympics. We discuss a few of the protests during these Games – the infamous Tommie Smith/John Carlos podium protest, of course, but also protests by Czechoslovakian gymnast Věra Čáslavská. And yes, there’s Avery Brundage talk!
Learn more about Harry at his website, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
Get a copy of the book (it’s a great read) from our Bookshop.org storefront. Purchases made through this link will help support the show financially.
Alison shares a story of courage in our Atlanta 1996 history moment, and we also have news from TKFLASTAN, including Team Shuster’s appearance on “The Late Late Show.”
We also have an update on Beijing 2022 and news about Africa’s announcement of its first regional Paralympic Games.
Plus, this wouldn’t be a Keep the Flame Alive show about Mexico City if we didn’t bring up this classic Raquel Welch video.
Thanks so much for listening, and until next time, keep the flame alive!
Please note: While we make efforts to ensure accuracy of this transcript, ultimately, it’s machine-created and may contain errors. The audio file is the official record.
Episode 208 – Harry Blutstein on Mexico City 1968
[00:00:29] Jill: Hello, fans of TKFLASTAN and welcome to another episode of Keep the Flame Alive, the podcast for fans of the Olympics and Paralympics. I am your host, Jill Jaracz joined as always by my lovely co-host Alison Brown. Alison, hello. How are you?
[00:00:41] Alison: I am well, though I am trying very hard not to say something culturally inappropriate.
[00:00:47] Jill: How so?
[00:00:49] Alison: Because of our guest today and his new book. And since we’re talking Mexico City, there’s just so many ways I could go wrong with this. So I’m just not going to.
[00:01:00] Jill: Okay. Well, well then maybe we just get right to the interview.
[00:01:04] Jill: But first we would like to give our Patreon shout out for the week. And that goes to Sarah Patton, AKA Super Fan Sarah. Thank you for being part of the show. Thank you for donating to the show as well. We really appreciate your help and to find out how you can get your own Patreon. Thank you. Go to Patreon.com/flame alive pod. Our patrons are pretty much the lifeblood of the show, as what they provide helps keep this show afloat, and we really appreciate all they do to support it. So check it out today. Patreon.com/flamealivepod.
[00:01:38] Jill: All right. As alluded to, we are coming up on the anniversary of the Mexico City, 1968 Olympics, and our TKFLASTANI author Harry Blutstein has a new book on the topic. It is called “Games of Discontent: Protests, Boycotts, and Politics at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.” We talked with him in May about some of the more unusual stories in his book. Take a listen.
[00:02:01] Jill: Harry, welcome back. It’s so nice to have you back. It’s nice to have another book from you.
[00:02:07] Jill: Titled “Games of Discontent,” which is about 1968 and the all of the protests and struggles people had around the Mexico City Olympics.
[00:02:20] Jill: Tell us about why the discontent part attracted you to writing this book.
[00:02:25] Harry: Well, dare I say, I’m a child of 1968 and everywhere around the world. There were students protests. And dare I say, where I live in Melbourne, I was protesting against Vietnam because Australia was part of that war. And in 68 it was my last year of high school, which sort of ages me. But it was an exciting time. There was lots going on. There was that feeling that we wanted to make a better world. And may I say now that we’re in our sixties and seventies, haven’t we made a hash of it, but you know, there, there was great idealism at the time. And there was a real feeling that we could change. In Paris there was the uprising that almost overthrew De Gaulle.
[00:03:11] Harry: And through America, of course, we had to assess the nations, which really brought people, particularly African-Americans into the street. After Martin Luther King was killed. And then Robert Kennedy And so you’d understand that sports people are part of that community. And they felt very strongly about the sorts of things that were going on as well.
[00:03:33] Harry: So in a way, the Olympic games is a single place during 16 days where the whole world is focused on. And so if you wanted to globalize your protest, that was the place to go. And this was the genius of the people who did protest there to realize they’d have a audience around the world.
[00:03:57] Alison: I think it was very interesting that you started the book talking about the bid process and how there was an attempt, which I had never heard before to have the 68 Olympics in East and West Berlin.
[00:04:12] Harry: Yes.
[00:04:13] Alison: Share that. There was always that we want the two Germanys to compete together, but to actually host it was, that was a whole other story.
[00:04:23] Harry: A lot of people forget that. Certainly at that time there was a lot of the idealism that had actually set up the Olympic movement, which was really built around a peace sport was a means of getting mutual understanding and making a more peaceful world. And one of the things is in fact, they called the Olympic movement, the island of the blessed.
[00:04:48] Harry: That they were going to be special, the athletes showing this great spirit of comradelish competition. But nevertheless done it in a friendly way was the way to show the world, world peace. And so one of the German IOC officials Willi Daume spoke to Willy Brandt who was then the mayor of West Berlin.
[00:05:10] Harry: He would later become chancellor of West Germany on a policy of reconciliation with the East. And so when he suggested why not put in a bid for both East and West Germany, Willy Brandt said, yeah, this is fantastic.
[00:05:26] Harry: Now this is just a few years because the vote was in 1963, the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. This was just two years after perhaps one of the darkest periods of the Cold War. When we really thought we’d have a nuclear confrontation. And yet here he was suggesting that East and West Berlin host the Games. Now, interestingly enough, he is not only the mayor of West Berlin, but he’s the most likely candidate to run for chancellor for the left wing party, and the right-wing party at the time was in power.
[00:06:03] Harry: So the last thing they wanted to do was give him oxygen and a platform. And so the West German government didn’t want this to go ahead. And so when it was put to them, they just didn’t bother answering. They just hoped it would just go away. East Germany had the same problem. They’d spoken about peace and that, you know, it was only the warmongers across the Berlin Wall, were causing the problem.
[00:06:28] Harry: And so they couldn’t knock it back either. And so they will run into a corner. So we’ve got neither side wanting to do it, neither side, being able to pull back from. Avery Brundage. And this is another aspect of Avery Brundage– and dare I use the word “noble” and “Brundage” in the same sentence, which I think I must be the only person who’s ever done that.
[00:06:52] Harry: But he really did champion the East and West bid because he did see the Olympics as an opportunity of bringing countries together and doing things that politicians couldn’t. And even though there was absolutely no preparation, there was no Olympic Village. There were only a few stadiums that could have been ready for the Olympic Games and East Germany had no money.
[00:07:16] Harry: So he couldn’t build anything in East Germany, but despite all of that, Brundage was still there. He was still pushing it behind the scenes. So what happened was that Willy Brandt was getting frustrated and getting no response. So he leaked it to the newspapers and that brought it on that neither side could then ignore it.
[00:07:38] Harry: And the response of the German people was phenomenal. I have one cartoon of the Berlin Wall and it has the politicians hiding behind the wall and a pole jumper jumping over the wall, indicating that sport can sort of get over those sorts of political barriers.
[00:07:58] Harry: Anyway, East Germany was in a position of having to respond. Everyone was looking to them. So all they did was set out a number of impossible conditions for the joint bid. It had to be done under the East German flag. It will be opened by the East German chancellor because of course it didn’t recognize west Germany and vice versa. So it eventually it died, but the IOC gave it a good shot.
[00:08:24] Harry: And then of course it was left up to four cities: Detroit, Lyon, Buenos Aires and Mexico City to fight it out.
[00:08:33] Alison: But it’s, it was reminiscent of what we’re even seeing today. How there’s all the talk of North and South Korea bidding for 2032. It’s for all the, and this comes up repeatedly in your book, the idea of the IOC and the Olympics staying out of politics still, somehow the Olympics become embroiled in politics.
[00:08:58] Harry: They tried, I guess, and the conclusion of my book is that the Olympic movement certainly still in ’68, I don’t think they’d pretend as much these days at all. The commercial has just taken over to such a degree, but certainly in ’68 there was that feeling of idealism was still about, but what it was was an idealism in words and not in actions.
[00:09:21] Harry: So the sorts of actions by the various people who did protest in Mexico City would be very much in keeping with that peace message of the founder you know, back in what was it? 1896, the first Olympics. Yet they were ready to punish those athletes for showing the sorts of idealism that was consistent with the Olympic ethos.
[00:09:42] Harry: That’s the great tragedy of the Olympic movement.
[00:09:47] Alison: So ’68 is the first time we ban South Africa from participating.
[00:09:52] Harry: Not quite. They’d been suspended in ’64 and then they’d been a, a sort of an inquiry and they decided that they would go in ’68. And this is when a protest movement that was run by a South African of mixed descent.
[00:10:13] Harry: A guy called Dennis Brutus, who was among other things, a poet and a sports person. So he was both things. And as he was going through university, he was watching very talented, black and mixed race athletes who were just as good as the white that were going to the Olympics yet were banned from it.
[00:10:35] Harry: And so he started a movement, and his philosophy was that if you could open up sport to multi-racial competition, it would undermine apartheid. So there was a philosophical argument there, and of course the South African government, which had apartheid and was as racist as anything, would not allow that.
[00:10:57] Harry: And so they persecuted Brutus. He was in jail. He was actually breaking stones with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. He was brutalized, he’s held back, was black and blue from beatings. They used to make him run around circles and beating him as he went. And they’d taunt him, the guards would taunt him, saying, See, Brutus, we’re giving you free exercise, so you might make it for the Olympics.
[00:11:23] Harry: You know, this guy was really, really an extraordinary courageous man in leading this movement. Eventually he gets out of Robben Island and he leaves South Africa and he continues lobbying to get particularly African countries to boycott. And he succeeds to such a degree that it looks like perhaps 20 or 30 countries may boycott.
[00:11:47] Harry: And the IOC, despite that, we’re going to continue to allow South Africa to compete in ’68. And eventually the pressure gets too much. Brundage does a mercy dash to to South Africa ,and he doesn’t want to expel South Africa. So he asks them to actually withdraw because of the danger to their athletes, even though there’s no threat against their athletes at this point.
[00:12:13] Harry: And the head of the local Olympic committee sort of said, look, I’d rather have our athletes attacked in a Mexico City than being hung in Johannesburg because that’s what would’ve happened. And so eventually the IOC after three votes decides to uninvite South Africa, not because they’re unsuitable, not because they’re racist or because of apartheid, because of the fear of violence, which was never there.
[00:12:42] Harry: And so it was really, really quite pathetic, but what happened afterwards is really interesting. Afterwards, the South Africans too, in a way show that they’re still part of the world community, organize their own games called the South African Games which is held a few months later. And being South Africa, there was one set of games for the blacks and one set of games for the whites.
[00:13:04] Harry: They used a version of the Olympic rings. And in my book, I actually have a a photo of a stamp that was produced in honor of the South African games with the rings. And they invited, at least for the white games, white athletes from around the world, except that they made a couple of mistakes and they accidentally invited a Chinese -German boxer and then quickly uninvited him and a Maori from New Zealand, and they quickly uninvited him.
[00:13:34] Harry: And then there was the problem of the local town, where it was going to be held, the stadium was segregated. And so that was going to be a bad look cause they were trying to say well, you know, it’s, we’re tolerant of the racism. We just have a, you know, they don’t mix too much, but and so on.
[00:13:50] Harry: So the government actually had to lean on the local council to allow it, but of course the non-whites were all behind barbed wire and uh, you know, with a bad view of what was going on and none of them bothered turning up. Why would they?
[00:14:04] Alison: What’s so interesting to me about this story is that we see echoes of it going down into subsequent Olympics.
[00:14:11] Alison: So in ’76, there is a huge boycott by African countries. In ’80 and ’84, when the US and allies boycott, and then the Soviets and allies boycott, they too stage their own sort of mini Olympics. So ‘ 68 feels like all these political and country gestures related to the Olympics begin, it’s the start of so many different things.
[00:14:40] Alison: And of course all the protests.
[00:14:43] Harry: Exactly right, Alison. And, you know, that’s why it’s such an important Olympics. And in a way, the Smith-Carlos, you know, the photograph of the salute has dominated and we think that’s all that happened. But as you say, there was a lot more, there were protests by athletes, there were boycotts or threatened boycotts that were successful.
[00:15:01] Harry: And you could say that the expulsion of South Africa and its demoralization and part of the South African games was to try and counter that the moralization was the end of the regime because Brutus was right. Once you lost that legitimacy in sport, that was more important to South Africans, whatever, and really led the way to eventually them handing over to Mandela and the end of white -dominated rule.
[00:15:29] Harry: So yeah, look, it’s, phenomenal, and we’ve, of course we haven’t dealt with the, the Mexican students, and they will also use the opportunity to protest in the street.
[00:15:39] Alison: Yeah. So that’s a big part of your book talking about — so this was like happened so much at American universities at the time. Student protest. And what specifically were they protesting against?
[00:15:53] Harry: We talk about 1968 as you know, the period of student protest around the world.
[00:15:57] Harry: You know, they were everywhere, Paris, Berkeley throughout Europe, Japan, and in Mexico City. The difference is that they didn’t have the same objectives and in a way, and this is great irony. The Mexican students were looking for the same freedoms that Americans had in American young people. And so though we’re a long way behind that.
[00:16:18] Harry: It was basically a one party system. The government had been there going right back to the Mexican revolution. The Mexican revolution was a time of idealism and the what was called the Mexican revolutionary party. I haven’t quite got their exact name there. We’re supposed to keep that ideals of that revolution alive.
[00:16:39] Harry: And by ’68, they hadn’t. They were corrupt. There was a wider gap between the rich and the poor. Democracy had really gone. It was a one party system. So they had real reason to protest. And so it had started spontaneously the previous July where some high school students had protested and had been beaten down by the riot police.
[00:17:03] Harry: And the reaction of the Mexican government was over the top. So at one point the students locked themselves into a building. And so the riot police got a bazooka and blew the doors off. And all the protests after that were met violently So the students weren’t doing very well. They were being marginalized as communists and all the other sorts of abuse that they could get from the government and the society, the general you know, older people, the generation gap existed.
[00:17:35] Harry: And they were very uncomfortable with the sorts of demands of the students. And then it really came up to the Olympics and the students thought, here is our opportunity to be seen by the world and to embarrass our government.
[00:17:48] Harry: Now, a lot of students actually supported the Olympic games. A lot of them actually worked for there. And one of the women who actually gets killed was wearing her Olympic uniform ’cause she was one of the hostesses, but she also supported the student movement. And they met on the second of October. So 10 days before the opening ceremony. And the government was determined that this would be the last protest. Brundage had sent a letter to the president who said, if there’s any more protest, we may pull the Olympic Games at the last minute.
[00:18:28] Harry: And so what actually happens following, Brundage should take some responsibility, and the IOC should. So the president decides this is going to be the last protest. And so in the Plaza, they surround the Plaza with troops and riot police. There’s also plainclothes people there from, would you believe called the Olympic Brigade and because they were in plain clothes, so the troops wouldn’t shoot them, they wore white gloves on their left hand. So I call them the Blancos the whites. And so the idea was that on a signal, a flare over the square that the Blancos would rush the building where the student leaders were speaking from a balcony, the third floor balcony, arrest them all. And then the troops who had surrounded the Plaza on all sides would come in, would arrest any leaders that were in the Plaza itself, but really just take down the names of everyone, which would then act as a way of intimidated them, should they subsequently protest.
[00:19:35] Harry: What really happened was a rogue group of Blancos set up in building around the square and started to shoot indiscriminately to provoke a riot, which they do. And so as a result, the troops, who didn’t know about the rogue assumed that that was student radicals and started to shoot into the crowd, started to shoot up and what they thought was night snipers and so on.
[00:20:02] Harry: And as a result, an estimated 250 people were killed, a phenomenal amount.
[00:20:07] Alison: The details in that chapter are pretty horrific to read. And what I found so interesting is that then, you know, you have the death of hundreds and injury of many more, and of course the IOC gets a little nervous. Avery Brundage asked the question, and the Mexican government is no, it’s fine. And it reminded me, which is why I love this book so much. It reminded me of the whole story of Avery Brundage in 1936, when he asks the German government, Are you discriminating against Jews?
[00:20:43] Alison: And he’s no, no, we’re, we’re not, it’s fine. This willingness of Brundage to just take things and take it at face value to get what he wants from the Olympics.
[00:20:54] Harry: Yeah. And ’72, where we’ve got a massacre on the actual Olympic Village, and he just says, the Games must go on. And this is again, this dissonance between the ideals and the sport. The sport really at this point is also becoming more important and so it would be nice if the Olympic movement had lived up to its idealism, in which case they would have condemned the Mexican government. And as I said, the Mexican government, the actual people who created the massacre was called the Olympic Brigade. They were they to keep peace in the Olympic movement which is just terrible to think that all this is under the, in a way indirectly under the auspices of the Olympic movement. Brundage in particular, the next day, when he was asked by the press, just dismissed it saying, oh, I went to the opera last night and didn’t hear anything. And everything’s fine. May I say other members of the IOC were ready to close it down. But it was really Brundage that kept the gun.
[00:21:51] Jill: Well, It is very classic Avery Brundage and we’ll turn a blind eye to apartheid in South Africa. We’ll turn a blind eye to student protests. Oh, your protests are going to make our little show look bad.
[00:22:06] Alison: Let’s shut that down. Exactly. Which gets to the main part of the book, which is, of course, the most famous protests probably in Olympic history, but certainly the iconic moment of 1968, which is the Tommie Smith, John Carlos black power salute, which was, as you described in the book, not spontaneous by any stretch of the imagination.
[00:22:32] Harry: No. It all started as a boycott. Tommie Smith had come back from a meet in Japan. And was asked whether there was any thought of a boycott. And he said, yes, some of us are thinking about it and that really got the ball rolling. Now you’ve got to remember that Tommie Smith was very much an athlete. These guys are spending their lives to get gold in Mexico City.
[00:22:57] Harry: So it’s a fair sacrifice to be saying, all right, we might think about boycotting Whereas Tommie was fairly political, more so than most African-American athletes. He really was under the mentorship of a guy called Dr. Harry Edwards. Who’d been an athlete and at that time, the general route of an athlete was, for an African-American athlete, start off dirt poor.
[00:23:21] Harry: Your passport to, perhaps a pro football and earning a bit of money is, you know, win a medal.
[00:23:29] Harry: So sport was really important, particularly athletics for African-Americans to get on. Harry Edwards was unusual. He was a talented athlete, but he decided to make his way through academic courses, because at those days, the African-Americans would also get a scholarship. They would do all the soft courses to get them through. Their professors would know to pass them, no matter how bad they work was, they have tutors all that sort of thing, which I’m sure it doesn’t happen anymore.
[00:23:59] Harry: But certainly it was the case. Harry would said, no, I’m going to make this on my own. I’m going to do serious subjects like sociology and I didn’t want to allow him at first. And eventually he broke through and they said, if your grades drop, you’re back out to doing, you know, the soft subjects, which he dismissed as badminton 101.
[00:24:19] Harry: And he did well. And he ended up getting a job at San Jose as a part-time professor, was a great mentor to the African-American athletes. And it was called Speed City because there was a lot of very talented athletes. There was Tommie Smith, there was Lee Evans, who sadly has just died. And later on, John Carlos joins them from East Texas.
[00:24:42] Alison: So they’re all together at this one university?
[00:24:44] Harry: Exactly. Right. And they’re under the tutalege of Bud Winter, a very talented coach. And Harry Edwards is organizing protests. He has this idea a little bit like Brutus in South Africa that, you know, Americans are glued to their TV screens between one and 6:00 PM watching sport.
[00:25:07] Harry: This is the time when we can get to them and make an impact on them about that. Not all is well in Black America. And so he organized. At the time Tommie Smith comes back from Tokyo. Harry Edwards is organizing his first protest, which is a boycott of the first football game of the season.
[00:25:29] Harry: It succeeds. As San Jose, the president there calls for inquiry on discrimination against African-Americans at the university. And it was real, there were real problems there. It’s ’68 after all. And there were changes and so Harry Edwards had chalked up a success, and then he moves on to talk about the boycott that had been first mooted it by Tommie Smith.
[00:25:56] Harry: And he starts organizing it. He travels around the country trying to get athletes on board, and he creates what’s called the Olympic Project for Human Rights. And the idea is it’s not just about African-American and racism in America. It’s about human rights everywhere. They talk about apartheid in South Africa.
[00:26:15] Harry: Although to be quite honest, they didn’t have a clue what was going on in South Africa.
[00:26:19] Alison: And there’s a real split among the athletes because some athletes are agreeing with Edwards that they should boycott Mexico City. Other athletes are saying, no, we want to race and win, and that in itself would be a protest. And then there are other athletes saying, look, I’m an athlete. I’ve trained my whole life for this. I just want to go compete. Which sounds awfully familiar.
[00:26:43] Harry: It does. Even the athletes who said we’ll boycott. And if you carefully read the comments by Tommie Smith and Lee Evans at the time, they were more or less saying, we’re happy to go too. Their lives were built around Mexico City. Even during the protest meetings, Lee Evans, 400 meters, was scribbling on a pad the times he wanted to get in Mexico City .You know, world record times. So they were split within their own minds. Even the ones who were for the boycott, it was never going to happen, really.
[00:27:19] Harry: And in a way, thankfully for their own cause, it didn’t happen because the absence of people in Mexico City would not have been noticed or as they marched in, there still would have been some black athletes who would have attended. And so there might’ve just been a comment. You know, some of talented American African athletes are not in the team, and that would have been the end of it.
[00:27:41] Harry: And they would have sacrificed a lot for all of that. And thankfully they decided to protest as the way they did in a way that was amazingly a photogenic.
[00:27:52] Alison: So to, we’re going to skip ahead. There’s a lot of interesting pieces in the book leading up to when the athletes are in Mexico city. So we’ll let people read that part, but we get to Mexico City, and the African-American track athletes are discussing, what are we going to do when we race?
[00:28:08] Alison: Are we going to not actually race? Are we going to do something on the podium? You get the night before the 200, Tommie Smith and John Carlos know they are medal favorites. And still haven’t made a decision as to what they’re going to do.
[00:28:26] Harry: Not only that there’s also dissension with their wives. Both Denise Smith, Kim, Carlos, and Linda Evans are very radical, much more radical than their husbands.
[00:28:44] Harry: If you see photos of them at the time, they’ve got the big Afros and so on. And they said to the husbands, what are you going to do? And their husbands are being very ambivalent. And they said, perhaps we won’t shake Avery Brundage’s hand on the podium as a snub, which is hardly a photogenic protest as what eventually happened.
[00:29:07] Harry: And so what happens is in the face of their husbands in transitions or reluctance, because all of them want to win gold medals. That’s their focus now. Having gone through everything else, they are ready for a token protest, but they don’t want to lose their medals because of a protest. And they focused on the next day.
[00:29:26] Harry: And so the wives hop into a taxi, go downtown to a department store in Mexico City and buy up as many black objects, scarves gloves, and so on. And they come back and say, do something. And so the guys run their race. Tommie Smith comes first. Carlos comes third and Australian Peter Norman come second.
[00:29:53] Harry: And they’re all down in, what’s called the athletes lounge under the stadium waiting for the call to return to the stadium, to get their medals. And they’re there for about 45 minutes. They get ready for the medal ceremony and then they sit down and say, what are we gonna do?
[00:30:11] Harry: And this is where there’s a great dispute between Tommie Smith and John Carlos. John Carols says it was all my idea. Tommie Smith says this was all my idea. Neither of them say it was all our wives’ idea, and we wouldn’t be talking about it, had it not been for them. Peter Norman is listening.
[00:30:30] Harry: Peter Norman is an interesting character, supported Black rights in Australia. Aborigines tread really treated and ’68 still are. But of course it was their protest; it wasn’t his protest. So he listens carefully to him. And it’s only through his testimony. I was lucky to actually find a tape recording. He gave just before he died, and it actually tells us whose idea it was in that athletes lounge 45 minutes before the race. Do I make you read the book or will I tell you?
[00:31:01] Jill: We should read the book. But I want to say, I think it’s interesting. We, when we hear a lot about Peter Norman or like the legend that we hear in the United States is that yes, he’s wearing the OPHR badge, but he doesn’t know anything else. And it just seems like he’s just brought along and then is pretty naive about the whole situation and then goes back home and is vilified in Australia.
[00:31:27] Jill: Whereas he seems to, you know, through your research, he seems to have been a lot more integral and there’s a lot more 3-Dness to him and fully fleshed out, especially learning about how he was concerned about the rights of the aboriginals in Australia, too. I had more sympathy for him.
[00:31:47] Harry: Peter Norman, as you said, was more than just a sports person. He was very religious. He was part of the Salvation Army. And just to give you a little bit of geography, I live about a mile away from where he used to live. So, when he marched around the streets of Thornbury banging his drum as part of the Salvation Army, I was probably one of the little kids running after him listening. So he used to attend sport meets with a jacket that said “Jesus saved.” And I know we’re a long way away in Australia, but we certainly got a lot of news of what was going on with racial problems in the States, more so than what we were reading about our own Aborigines, but they were freedom bus rides in Australia as well. And he would have been very well aware of those sorts of things. So he had probably a more sophisticated understanding of what was going on in America than Smith and Carlos did of South Africa.
[00:32:47] Alison: Can you just talk a little bit about what race relations in Australia at that time looked like?
[00:32:55] Harry: Okay. It was very much patronage. We didn’t have the same sort of white supremacy because there was so few Aborigines. They really lived outside the cities. There were small and I wouldn’t even call them ghettos, but concentrations of Aborigines, living in inner suburbs often in slum areas. They only got the vote in 1967, the year before. They were only given citizenship rights through that referendum, which was passed overwhelmingly It was sort of benign neglect rather than racism in Australia.
[00:33:29] Harry: A lot of famous footballers were playing at the time, but at the same time, they suffered from racism from both on and off the field. I won’t pretend it was not a racist society, but it wasn’t, it was a casual racism rather than the sort of hatred that you get in the States at the time where the N word had enormous impact.
[00:33:54] Alison: But Peter Norman was not unaware of this issue, not just what was happening in the United States, but personal in his own country. It was, it made sense to him what Carlos and Smith were talking about.
[00:34:08] Harry: Totally, totally. And being part of the Salvation Army, he would have dealt with Aboriginal communities here. So no, no, his depth of involvement may well have been greater than their involvement if you like at a political level or understanding. So anyway, they’re sitting in, they think they decide on the gloves. Carlos hasn’t brought his gloves. So for the guy who said it was all my idea, it was showed a certain amount of neglect, absent mindedness.
[00:34:35] Harry: And now Peter Norman pipes up and he says why don’t you wear one glove each? And they say, yeah, why not? And that’s what happens, which is why, when you see Tommie Smith, considering they’re his gloves, he gets to wear the right one. And Carlos gets to wear the left one.
[00:34:51] Harry: And at this point, Peter Norman says look, I support you guys. What about one of those badges? You know, to indicate my support the Olympic Project for Human Rights. And they say, no, you’re not getting ours. It’s part of our outfit, we’re wearing it. And so as they go onto the field, they bump into a rower, Paul Hoffman, who has supported the boycott movement while he was back in the States. Harvard rower, , he’s white. , Peter Norman says, can I have that badge when he notices he’s wearing it. And Paul says to him, Are you going to wear it on the stand?
[00:35:31] Harry: And Peter Norman says, You betcha. And so he gives it to him, and the rest is history. He’s part of that protest. And I think Carlos and Smith really respected him because he had no skin in the game of joining the protest, yet he was going to be punished as a result of it. And he, even though he’s the best runner 200 meters running up to the 1972 Olympics, they don’t select him.
[00:35:57] Alison: What’s so amazing is that, you know, we’re going to talk about some of the other protests that were done, but the Carlos and Smith protest has become this larger than life moment because of that iconic photograph and the image that just zoomed around the world the next day.
[00:36:16] Alison: And you, you have a whole chapter at the end talking about how the visual power of that was so 1968, because we were being televised. , There were so many reporters and that image made the protest. The protest would have been forgotten without that image.
[00:36:34] Harry: That’s true. And it was incredibly lucky that the photographers were there, because at this point, you know, no one thought, anyone was going to protest or it would be pathetic.
[00:36:43] Harry: And the ABC that was broadcasting it, the producer there all of a sudden, when they marched onto the ground saw that they were wearing one black glove and he quickly got his camera crew there in place. The thing was over, but no one ever broadcast anything about the medal ceremonies much.
[00:37:02] Harry: And all of a sudden the camera crew, were there. You actually, I’ve seen the full footage and you see them marching onto the field with a glove and a single shoe. And they get to the stadium and there is two protests. The photo that you all associate happens when the national anthem is played, but they actually raised their fists to begin with as they’re actually before they’re actually given their medals, and they hold up their fist in one hand and their shoe in the other.
[00:37:33] Harry: And may I say that is the first case of a sponsored protest because the shoe was a Puma shoe and they’ve been paid by Puma. And that’s-that photo people never see.
[00:37:44] Alison: And once again, we get hints of things to come Lord Killanen, who was the IOC president during the, the Moscow boycott was involved in the medal ceremony, the Marquess of Exeter who was very involved in ’72 and ’76 is part of the ceremony.
[00:38:03] Alison: And we start talking about shoe contracts as part of that protest.
[00:38:08] Harry: Exactly. And you know, it was the first visible, all the athletes were getting money from the shoe companies. Adidas and a Puma. And Smith and Carlos were the only ones brave enough to actually say we’re getting money from these people and we appreciate it.
[00:38:22] Harry: And this is not divorced from what they approached us, was all about. Because of the amateur rules that were particularly difficult for African-American athletes, they had no family money behind them. They weren’t, middle-class coming from middle-class families. So Smith and Carlos, both of them who were married and had one child each as did Lee Evans, who’s the third member of the protest, if you like, who’s often forgotten. When they went away to compete, they were not earning money from their jobs and they had to make due on $2 a day.
[00:38:55] Harry: And whereas someone like Dick Fosbury or Bill Toomey, who were white athletes, had family behind them. And, they could go away for two weeks or three weeks and they didn’t necessarily need part time jobs.
[00:39:10] Harry: For African-Americans, it was a serious issue. And the money they were getting from the two companies was absolutely essential to sort of deal with their disadvantage.
[00:39:19] Harry: Can I indicate a story that’s not in the book that you might find?
[00:39:22] Alison: Yeah.
[00:39:25] Harry: I mentioned that Brundage was not at the ceremony.
[00:39:29] Alison: I love bad Brundage stories!
[00:39:31] Jill: In my notes, Harry, in, in the notes we have here. You wrote, he went to Acapulco to watch the sailing. And I said, oh, is sailing a euphemism for “seeing your mistress”?
[00:39:42] Harry: That’s exactly what it was. And that’s the part I’m going to tell you.
[00:39:46] Harry: It is a wonderful story.
[00:39:48] Alison: We love hearing about how awful Brundage is
[00:39:52] Harry: There was almost enough to put this in the book. There’s a lot left out and this was one of the stories. And I actually checked with the yachting people. I actually ended up ringing up about five yachting people saying, did you see Brundage?
[00:40:06] Harry: And he wasn’t, because he was with his mistress. Okay. I’ll do the story from the beginning. Okay. So Brundage gets wind that the athletes are not going to either shake his hand or wear gloves so they won’t touch his racist skin. Now Brundage normally would not back away from a fight, but he decides uncharacteristically to withdraw and go and watch the yachting at Acapulco.
[00:40:31] Harry: Now, I did a bit of research on this, and I spoke to yachtsmen who were there at the time. No one saw Brundage. Now, normally the medals are handed out by an IOC official. And I guess if the IOC president is there, you’d think he would take precedence in handing out those medals. Yet, I’ve also checked that and he didn’t hand it any of the medals.
[00:40:55] Harry: So Brundage was not in Mexico City. We know that for a fact, but no one saw him in Acapulco. But what was known is that he had two mistresses in Mexico City. We know that because he got into trouble with both of them because he actually sent the wrong perfume to the wrong mistress at one point. So we had one Swedish, who he had two children by and that’s quite well documented, and he had a Mexican mistress.
[00:41:25] Harry: And so obviously he found other sporting activities more interesting than perhaps watching yachtsman sail around Acapulco. And anyway, he comes back to Mexico City when he watches the Smith -Carlos protests on TV, on the 16th. He rushes off to the hotel where the US Olympic Committee is. And I now have an eye witness, a journalist who watched him leave his car which has a young lady in the back.
[00:41:57] Harry: We don’t know whether she was Swedish or Mexican, but presumably one of them. And as he’s leaving the car, he’s still speaking to her, except that behind him is a fountain and he falls in. And it gets out soaking wet, in which case he gets back into the car, has to go back to his hotel to change before coming back to confront the US Olympic Committee about expelling Smith and Carlos from the Olympic Village.
[00:42:28] Harry: That story has not been told.
[00:42:30] Harry: I told you it was worth it.
[00:42:32] Jill: Well, And, and the amazing thing is that it feels like maybe that increased is, and the falling into the fountain increased his anger to, because he was pretty bombastic with the USOC head.
[00:42:47] Harry: Oh, totally. He wanted, you know, the guys basically humiliated and, don’t forget being African-American was all part of it.
[00:42:55] Harry: You know, what happened to the Australian, how he was dealt with basically he’s called in by the. head of the Australian delegation, a guy called Judy Patching, Judy for Julius. And Judy Patching calls Peter Norman in. And he says tell us what all that was about.
[00:43:15] Harry: And he sorta said, I got up and I got my medal, I left.
[00:43:17] Harry: And he says, no, no, the badge, the protest.
[00:43:19] Harry: And he says the guys are right. There is a problem there. And I was willing to support them while wearing the badge.
[00:43:25] Harry: And Judy Patching says to him, well, I’ve been told to admonish you. Consider yourself admonished. By the way, have you got tickets to the hockey? .I’ve got some spare ones .
[00:43:35] Harry: And that was how he was dealt with.
[00:43:37] Harry: Now, this is the difference between how the white athletes were treated and the African-American athletes were treated. Smith and Carlos had no hearing, no chance to defend themselves. They were just ordered out of the Olympic Village. Whereas Peter Norman was called in. He had a chance to defend himself. And of course his punishment was fairly, or his admonishment was pretty light to say the least.
[00:44:01] Harry: Interesting enough, so was Paul Hoffman called in and he also had an opportunity to defend himself. The white rower who’d given Peter Norman the badge, and he was more or less asked you know, your race is coming up. Will you protest? Give us an another taking. He said, I’ll give you another taking. And he walked out without any punishment.
[00:44:21] Harry: You know, that’s Olympic justice for you. And in a way, that is as much a story as the protest
[00:44:28] Alison: So there were several other less famous protests by American athletes, Lee Evans Wyomia Tyus but they were in that same genre of, wearing a certain item. But the other big story you focus on is Věra Čáslavská, the Czech gymnast.
[00:44:50] Alison: I definitely want to spend a good amount of time talking about her because her whole story just kind of, I think encompasses 1968 so well.
[00:44:58] Harry: That’s right. So just a little bit of background. In ’68 in January, the reformist government of Alexander Dubček comes in and we have the beginning of what’s called the Prague Spring. Talk of democracy censorship is abolished. People are able to, you know, buskers are playing jazz and pop music on the streets, which wouldn’t have happened under the Stalinist government that was before. And there’s a great flowering. The cafes come alive with political discussion, and it’s fantastic.
[00:45:26] Harry: But all the surrounding Stalinist government and Brezhnev in the Kremlin are horrified because part of the program is socialism with a human face. They didn’t particularly want socialism to have a human face. They wanted to have their own faces on it, which were fairly autocratic. And so, by the middle of the year, there are threats of invasion.
[00:45:54] Harry: And so a number of intellectuals get together. They see Dubček starting to waver. And so they produce a manifesto called a 2000 Word Manifesto and they want to build up support for it by getting well-known personalities to sign it. And one of those people is a gymnast called Věra Čáslavská, and she’s won, I think, three gold medals at the previous Olympics. And she’s expected to reach a peak in Mexico City. Everyone knows of her. And that signature was very, very important.
[00:46:30] Harry: One of the other signatures on the 2000 Word Manifesto is Emil Zátopek, two gold medals in Helsinki.
[00:46:38] Harry: And so athletes are very important to provide support for political movements, particularly in Eastern Europe where there’s no other focuses of public figures, if you like, because of the oppressive societies they’re in.
[00:46:52] Harry: And so she signs this, she continues to train. And they go off to a training camp in the mountains, several hundred miles from Prague. And on the 21st of August, she hears jets overhead and people are running through the streets, saying the Russians are coming. Literally.
[00:47:15] Harry: She hops onto a bike and cycles into town, and then there is a confrontation between troops and a tank in the middle of the little village near her training camp. And everyone knows Věra Čáslavská. She, just to give you a bit of a feel of what she looked like, big blonde bouffant hair. And it was in the days when gymnasts, looked like women, not like little girls,
[00:47:41] Alison: She was 26, by the time she competes it in Mexico City. And she’s absolutely stunning.
[00:47:47] Harry: Exactly right. And she’s more or less the last of the women to actually win a gold medal. And so she comes into town. Everyone knows who she is and she’s confronting these troops. You know, this is a very brave action This is, the sort of spirit of ’68 that’s real.
[00:48:03] Harry: And she goes back to the training camp and she’s told that because she signed the 2000 Word Manifesto, she may be arrested. And so the local forest commission official whisks her off to a isolated cabin in the mountains. And she still believes that Dubček, who was the reformer, if he stays in power, she’ll still be allowed to go to Mexico City.
[00:48:29] Harry: And she continues her training. Except that she’s got no equipment. So a log becomes a balance beam. A mossy field is where she does her floor exercises. She shovels coal to keep her hands calloused, which you need when you’re on the bars and she continues that way. And she listens to the radio, which has now been taken over by the hardliners.
[00:48:51] Harry: Dubček and the other reformers are whisked off to Moscow, are intimidated and more or less said, as long as you go back on your form movement, we’ll, we’ll let you stay as president, but you have no power where, you know, you’re basically a puppet, and much to. Uh, his discredit, he accepts those conditions, comes back.
[00:49:13] Harry: Word gets to Vera. She doesn’t know that he’s renounced the reform measures. But he welcomed her back and under his protection, she’s allowed to go to Mexico City.
[00:49:25] Harry: Now at the same time in Mexico City is a Russian gymnast Natasha. I won’t try and pronounce her second name and please don’t ask me to. And already the Mexican crowd have fell in love with her.
[00:49:38] Harry: And again, she had dark hair to Vera’s blonde, and she had the figure of a young girl, even though she was, I think, 21. So she foreshadowed the shape of gymnasts to come. And she so charmed the Mexicans that she was called the Bride of Mexico. And the Bride of Mexico goes back to the times of the Aztecs, where they sacrificed the Bride of Mexico for good fortune.
[00:50:07] Harry: And they actually have a ceremony at the Olympic Village to declare that Natasha the Bride of Mexico, except that she explains that being a good communist, she has nothing to sacrifice. And so she, again, charms them. She dates the son of the president of Mexico. And I have another incident where she dates another Mexican student, who was going to go to a protest on the 2nd of October and instead goes out with her. So she literally saves his life.
[00:50:36] Alison: So I will do the pronunciation for you. It’s Natalia Kuchinskaya.
[00:50:41] Harry: Thank you very much.
[00:50:43] Alison: So this story culminates in something that was very familiar from your last book, the blood in the water water polo match, where we have these two gymnasts facing off head to head fighting for the gold medal.
[00:50:58] Harry: That’s right. And there was a degree of personal animosity between them as well, which sort of added spice to program. And so in the first three, Vera picks up gold medals, and then on the balance beam she’s beaten by Natasha. Even though, in fact, the judging gets booed because it’s obvious that Vera one, but of course, most of the judges are East European judges, and eventually her score is bumped up, but she still comes second.
[00:51:32] Harry: That means on the victory podium, the Soviet national anthem is going to be played. And so as she’s standing on the podium, she’s thinking, how will I protest? Cause she, she didn’t necessarily foresee this, okay? That the Russian, any of them would be played. You know, she expected to win all the gold, in which case that opportunity wouldn’t come ,and the protests wouldn’t have come- the opportunity to protest.
[00:51:57] Harry: And she thinks specifically about putting a fist up because this is a week after Smith and Carlos. She thinks V for victory. And eventually as the anthem is played, she turns her head away from the flag, the Russian flag, and downwards in mourning. Now, unlike Smith and Carlos, there’s no still photographers to take the moment. It’s not dramatic.
[00:52:22] Harry: And the ABC, which was broadcasting it at the time, comments on it, and just sort of says, I don’t know why she’s doing this. And she does it a second time when she draws on the floor exercises. And so it’s not even commented at the time. Now, the IOC would have known because it’s IOC officials that give out the medals, yet she was not punished.
[00:52:48] Harry: And I think it was a great relief to the IOC, that one, it wasn’t dramatic. And two, the newspapers didn’t comment on it because whereas attacking two African-American athletes in the 1960s would not necessarily been very unpopular among white America, shall we say? Whereas attacking a brave Czech, who’d stood up to the Russians would have been very unpopular around the world, and the IOC would have been absolutely slaughtered.
[00:53:20] Harry: And that doesn’t happen. And the Czech officials do not punish her because in fact, before the Olympic Games, they’d called for the Soviet Union to be expelled from the Mexico games. So they were totally all on board. And so after the protest, she gets married in Mexico City. It’s the usual chaotic Mexican– Mexicans love a wedding.
[00:53:44] Harry: And now Natasha is no longer the Bride of Mexico. All of a sudden it literally is Vera and they’ve forgotten Natasha. She only wins one gold medal and Vera is the Bride of Mexico. It’s a chaotic wedding where she’s almost trampled to death by enthusiastic Mexicans in the cathedral, but then there’s an afterlife.
[00:54:09] Harry: And again, her courage comes out because athletes in the past, who had protested against Stalin’s Czech government had ended up in the uranium mines. And she has signed the 2000 Word Manifesto, but it’s only her five, I think it was five gold medals she wins in Mexico City. That saves her from being the uranium mines. Zátopek, who also signed, does go to the uranium mines, not working as a miner, but in the administration until he renounces his signature on the 2000 Word Manifesto.
[00:54:41] Harry: So he goes back on it. She doesn’t. She refuses. She’s even called in by the president by now Dubček has been deposed. She’s called in by the new president and asked to renounce the signature. And she refuses. Not only that, soon after the Games, she actually goes for a trip to America and denounces the invasion.
[00:55:04] Harry: This is one brave woman. Now after Smith and Carlos’ protest, you don’t hear any more about them until recently when their photograph and all the rest of it becomes, you know, back in currency, but she was willing to stand up again and again and again, and risk herself, her life. And so on in the face of an oppressive government. This is one brave woman and should be remembered as the face of the Mexico Olympic games, in my opinion.
[00:55:33] Alison: And I think something you point out in your book, because there isn’t that riveting image, you have a still that you’ve captured from, I guess it was the ABC movie or television broadcast. And even in that still image- she’s stunning, first of all. And the pain in her face of the pain that her country suffered is so evident.
[00:55:58] Alison: And I’m sad that that image doesn’t exist. And clearly this woman needs a movie because we have the training montage, all set, where she’s using the tree as the balance beam and the coal. And the way you tell her story is so amazing. And I’m, glad I got to read it because it wasn’t somebody, even though it was sort of pre- when I started watching gymnastics. So I did not know her.
[00:56:24] Harry: Yeah, no, no. As I said, I hope the story gets known. It’s known in Czechoslovakia. It’s not in Mexico.
[00:56:32] Alison: Cause she ended up in Mexico, right?
[00:56:33] Harry: She ended up in Mexico. Do you want the end of the story, which is very sad, which is not in the book?
[00:56:39] Alison: Oh no!
[00:56:41] Harry: Her husband supported the regime, and they fought. They had two children, a boy and a girl and then were separated, divorced.
[00:56:50] Harry: One day, her son, who was then a young adult, bumped into the father, they got into a fight and he killed his father and he was arrested for murder and convicted. And it was only through her intervention that he was allowed out of jail. She was then seriously depressed for a number of years after that.
[00:57:14] Harry: Eventually she came out of a depression. The communist regime ended, and she was actually made an advisor on sports of the new government, who happened to be Alexander Dubček as president, who’d come back. She then got invited back to Mexico City where she was a hero. And there is a Czech documentary, and you can probably get a YouTube clip of it, of her dancing in the streets of Mexico as a woman into her sixties.
[00:57:44] Harry: So it’s a bitter ending to her story, but at least she was recognized at least in two countries. And I would hope perhaps more so after reading my book.
[00:57:54] Alison: So the Mexico City Olympics themselves did not have a bitter ending because, as you tell the story of the closing ceremonies, we’ve got mariachi bands.
[00:58:05] Alison: We have athletes breaking the rules and dancing on the infield and there was a fiesta. With just this wonderful, joyous moment of where Avery Brundage just lost all control and the inmates took over the asylum and it was a full blown party.
[00:58:23] Harry: It was. So a little bit of context, in ’56 because there had been all those tensions, rather than marching in teams, which could have ended up as a fight between the Hungarians and the Russians, they got all the athletes to come in, en masse onto the field, which was seen as the mingling of nations, the peace message and all the rest of it. And that tradition continued. But in ’68 Brundage decided to end that tradition and only eight athletes would be allowed to march in from each team.
[00:58:53] Harry: The athletes, as you’ve just pointed out, had a different idea about this. Jumped the fence, got around the Boy Scouts, who didn’t look all that fearsome and joined in. And as I said, they were dancing in circles. Some of the Scouts would try to stop them getting onto the field were carried on their shoulders and thrown around.
[00:59:11] Harry: And it really was the sort of spirit of togetherness that the Olympic movement is meant to personify. And as you pointed out, it’s really sad that the IOC did not see that, which so how much it was moving away from its original objectives.
[00:59:29] Alison: The book is amazing and I really enjoyed it. And I was very excited. There was another appearance by one of our other friends, which is Madeline Manning Mims, who we had a conversation with separately. So we got -Jill and I both excitedly noted on our , notes, oooh. Madeline is in the book too!
[00:59:48] Harry: Right? Oh, yes, yes.
[00:59:50] Harry: And, and Olga Fikotová or Olga Connelley, which was the big love affair in in ’56 also in ’68, and in 72 she carries the flag and it was almost stopped because she’d done anti- Vietnam protests and was actually handing out pamphlets in Munich against the war. You know, the protest actually did continue but in much more low key thing, but it is interesting when you follow through, people that I’ve written in one book and that they’re still around in other books. Familiar characters, and it was great speaking to a lot of these athletes, thankfully ’68, a lot more were alive than when I was dealing with ’56.
[01:00:32] Harry: Yeah. Look, there’s so much material in the Olympic history.
[01:00:35] Harry: It tells you what’s going on in politics in a way that other histories don’t, which is why I found it so much fun to write. And there’s all these stories that, when you dig deep, are there. And, a lot of them in the book, a lot of them, as I’ve already told you some of the ones that didn’t get into the book, are, just as good, if not better.
[01:00:56] Harry: And, you know, I wish I had the space to have put them all in, but you’ve got to stop at some point.
[01:01:04] Alison: That’s why we have a show that we just keep going.
[01:01:07] Harry: And that’s why I love talking to you on your show.
[01:01:11] Jill: Thank you so much, Harry, you can find Harry at harryblutstein.com and he is on Twitter and Facebook.
[01:01:16] Jill: We will have links to those in the show notes. You can also get his book through our bookshop org storefront. We will have a link in the show notes. Purchasing through our link helps us earn money to cover our operating expenses and upcoming coverage in Beijing. And holidays are coming. And we’ve, all learned that you need to shop now.
[01:01:37] Alison: Well, there’s this wonderful tradition in Iceland where on Christmas Eve they give each other books.
[01:01:43] Jill: Yes!
[01:01:43] Alison: And they spend the evening, reading books and eating skyr and coffee, I guess. ‘Cause that’s the thing in Iceland.
[01:01:51] Alison: So I would love that tradition to take hold here.
[01:01:54] Jill: Yes!
[01:01:55] Alison: So you can get the firstname.lastname@example.org for all your friends and family.
[01:02:00] Jill: Exactly. And you can also make gift cards happen. We’re turning on that feature as well. So if you want to support an independent bookshop, this holiday season, check out our gifts card section.
[01:02:17] Jill: That sound means it’s time for our historical Games moment. This year, we are focusing on Atlanta in 1996 because it is the 25th anniversary. Stories all year long. Alison, it is your week. What do you got for me??
[01:02:30] Alison: I’m actually very excited about this story. So since we were talking politics, I came across the story of Raed Ahmed, who was the flag bearer for Iraq in the opening ceremonies.
[01:02:41] Alison: He is a weightlifter and he was told by the Iraq Olympic Committee, who at the time was led by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, who had a reputation for basically being an absolute psychopath.
[01:02:55] Jill: I forgot about that.
[01:02:57] Alison: Yes. Do not look at President Bill Clinton. Don’t meet his eyes, keep your head bowed because the Americans are trying to destroy our country. They don’t deserve any respect.
[01:03:08] Alison: So Ahmed had been at odds, let’s just say with the Iraq Olympic officials for many, many years, and they’re alive, the athletes’ lives were threatened and their families were threatened and then Uday would come through and just like beat people for no reason.
[01:03:26] Alison: So, he catches a glimpse. He raises eyes and looks at Bill Clinton – and that comes back later. We’re coming back to this. So, now you’ve got to remember, this is only five years after the Iraq War, the original Iraq War, right? Where Iraq invaded Kuwait. So, he goes and he does his competition. And then with the help of a couple Iraqi -American friends, he decides, this is the moment he’s going to escape and defect to the United States.
[01:03:58] Alison: So he just packs his things. He’s got no papers because they, Iraqi officials had taken them all, just walks out of the Olympic village with his duffle bag, gets into a car and just leave And they get him to New York and he seeks asyulm, and of course the Iraqi officials are telling him we’re going to kill your whole family. We’re going to execute your wife, all these things.
[01:04:21] Alison: Thankfully, none of that happened. So he was granted asylum. He did stay in the United States, eventually with a whole cloak and dagger story. He got his wife out as well, two years later. But what he said in the end- they interviewed him prior to Tokyo, the BBC did, saying, what was it about that moment that made you decide this was it?
[01:04:45] Alison: And he said that when he looked up and he saw President Clinton, Clinton is smiling and waving and just so joyful to be here that Ahmed, realized that everything he had been told was a lie.
[01:05:00] Jill: Wow.
[01:05:01] Alison: And that all that the abuse he had experienced was just what it was. It was abuse and he, his life was threatened and he knew that everything they had said about Americans and America was not true.
[01:05:14] Alison: So kind of an amazing, but the nice end of the story is he ended up in Dearborn, Michigan. He’s lived there ever since. He’s got a car dealership, he’s got five kids and the wife that he got out of Iraq from at 1998 is here with and they’ve had their life. And he says he watches the opening ceremonies every time.
[01:05:35] Alison: And he remembers that moment.
[01:05:38] Jill: Wow. Wow. That is a story. I wonder what it was like for his wife for those two years.
[01:05:44] Alison: How terrifying. They had to sneak her with a fake passport into Jordan and then smuggle her. It’s oh, it’s that part of the story is a whole other avenue to go down.
[01:05:55] Jill: Wow. Where’s the movie on this one?
[01:06:00] Alison: I mean, at least, an NBC pre-Olympic political thriller. C’mon this is made for TV.
[01:06:07] Jill: Right?
[01:06:12] Jill: Before we move on, we wanted to let you know that our merch store is open again. We will have a link at flamealivepod.com/store. We have shirts, we have stickers, we have all kinds of stuff. We have masks if you need new masks. And it’s great.
[01:06:29] Alison: And we’re adding designs regularly. So it’s not just the logo. We have a TKFLASTAN design. We have a country code design, and we take requests for designs.
[01:06:40] Jill: Check it out. flamealivepod.com/store .
[01:06:47] Alison: Welcome to TKFLASTAN.
[01:06:50] Jill: It is time to check in with our Team Keep the Flame Alive. These are past guests of the show.
[01:06:55] Alison: Kelly Claes has announced her engagement via Instagram, and they gave her a surprise engagement party at the moment. It was really sweet. And she and playing partner, Sarah Sponcil are currently competing in the FIVB world tour finals, which go on through October 10th. They won their first match against the Swiss Verge-Depre and Heidrich two to one.
[01:07:18] Jill: Water polo player. Tony Azevedo will be inducted into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame on November 7th at a lunch in Irvine, California.
[01:07:27] Alison: How has he not been inducted already?
[01:07:29] Jill: I know, I wonder if there was a time limit or if COVID messed up things, but yet yeah, definitely well-deserved for Tony.
[01:07:37] Alison: Pairs skater Nate Bartholomey competed with his new partner, Katie McBeith at the Autumn Classic International in Canada, back in mid-September. They placed fifth out of seven competing pairs. The little gossip part of this is that Nate’s former partner, Deanna Stellato Dudeck and her new partner, Maxim Deschamps placed fourth.
[01:07:57] Jill: Team Schuster, including our curler, John Schuster was on The Late Late Show with James Corden for a curling showdown. We will have a link to the video in the show notes because it was pretty funny. We did see it.
[01:08:08] Alison: And the dulcet tones of Jason Bryan are announcing at the world wrestling championships in Oslo. And these have been on the Olympic channel. So you can hear him in the background and he’s been posting videos of his hotel room.
[01:08:36] Jill: All right. We are starting to get a lot of news from Beijing 2022. Inside the Games has reported that the organizing committee has recognized this controversial Russian made COVID vaccine as a vaccine that will be allowable for athletes and other participants to have to get into the country.
[01:08:55] Jill: The Beijing Organizing Committee has announced its test event schedule. So all the test events for the sports have been kind of delayed by a whole winter season thanks to COVID. The test events just started and they’re taking place through December 31st.
[01:09:10] Jill: So if something needs to be tweaked, they do not have much time to get it done.
[01:09:15] Alison: Good luck.
[01:09:17] Jill: Yeah. So they will be having 10 international competitions, three training weeks and two domestic trials. And this is going to cover all three competition zones. The events will be short and long track speed, skating, skeleton, luge, figure skating, curling, wheelchair, curling, bobsled, ice hockey, freestyle ski cross, snowboard cross ,Nordic combined, and biathlon.
[01:09:39] Jill: And then the, curling and ice hockey events will be limited just to domestic athletes. So it is a jam-packed schedule.
[01:09:46] Jill: Yeah.
[01:09:46] Alison: I’m surprised about the figure skating because they moved the ISU Four Continents from China. So I wonder if this is Cup of China, I’m going to look into that. Yeah. ‘Cause the ISU announced that Four Continents is now going to be in Estonia.
[01:10:01] Alison: Yeah, I’m wondering what this figure skating event is going to be in. Is it just are they going to do the nationals or something there? So I will, I will take a look.
[01:10:10] Jill: And then the Beijing Winter Olympic Park has opened. This is a brand new park for Beijing. It is located in the Shijingshan district along the Yongding river, which is in the Southwestern part of the city.
[01:10:25] Jill: It includes Olympic themed sculptures and has a 42 kilometer riverside marathon route. So this is the first enclosed marathon route in Beijing, and they can have races of all lengths.
[01:10:39] Alison: So to get this joke, you’re going to have to go back to our first Mexico City story that we did, I think over a year ago now, but I wonder if Raquel Welch will come and dance among the Olympic sculptures.
[01:10:54] Jill: Oh, that would be awesome. And it has been longer than a year since we’ve had that on, it’s been like two or three years.
[01:11:01] Alison: We’ll put a little bit of that up so that you know what I’m talking about.
[01:11:04] Jill: Oh man, or who is the rock? Raquel Welch of Beijing.
[01:11:08] Alison: Oh yes.
[01:11:10] Jill: You can dance around the sculpture. Oh my gosh. That was just phenomenal.
[01:11:19] Jill: We have a little bit of Paralympics news, and this is exciting. The National Paralympic Committee of Ghana has announced that the country will host the first ever African Paralympic Games in 2023. And it should include participants from 50 African nations.
[01:11:34] Alison: Fantastic. Well, anything that expands the Paralympic movement is a good thing.
[01:11:40] Alison: I would agree. And it’s, it’s really exciting that Africa is getting this push for the games. I’m hoping that Tokyo was a big inspiration to see that more events were necessary. So we are looking forward to that.
[01:11:52] Alison: You think they’ll have more wheelchair rugby for me to watch?
[01:11:55] Jill: Probably. Who is the Chuck Aoki of Africa?
[01:11:59] Alison: There’s only one Chuck Aoki, come on.
[01:12:03] Jill: Well, that is going to do it for this week. Let us know if you’ve got thoughts about the Mexico City games on their anniversary week.
[01:12:12] Alison: Email email@example.com. Call or text us at (208) 352-6348. That’s 2 0 8-FLAME-IT. We’re flamealivepod on Twitter and Insta and Keep the Flame Alive Podcast group on Facebook
[01:12:29] Alison: oh, and don’t forget on the Facebook group to vote for our Winter Olympics for next year. Our history focus.
[01:12:35] Jill: That’s right. You have one more week to vote. So be sure to get on there for that. And we’ll announce the winner next week. Thank you so much for listening. And until next time, keep the flame alive.