|July 17, 2008
Salute is an Australian documentary about a guy called Peter Norman. Do you know who he is? I didn’t have a clue before I saw this movie. My friends hadn’t heard of him either.
Peter Norman was arguably Australia’s greatest ever sprinter. He won the 200m title at the Australian Championship for five consecutive years between 1966 and 1970. The most impressive statistic for me that Norman still holds the Australian record of 20.06 seconds for 200m. It has stood for almost 40 years.
Norman set the record in the 200m final at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. It won him the silver medal. Two African American athletes filled the other placings – Tommie Smith won the gold and John Carlos won the bronze.
It’s not the race that is most remembered from this day but rather the victory ceremony which followed. As Smith and Carlos stood on the victory podium, they bowed their heads and raised a clenched fist into the air. Each was wearing a black glove. Norman stood with his head raised but wore a white badge on his green and gold jacket which said “Olympic Project for Human Rights”.
Smith, Carlos and Norman were making their voices heard. They wanted to highlight the racial oppression that was taking place across the globe. Norman said after the race that “every man is born equal and should be treated that way.”
Their actions caused a massive uproar. All three athletes were harassed by officials and by the media for using the Olympics to promote their “political” message. Smith and Carlos were expelled from the Games and Norman received a reprimand from Australia’s Olympic administration. Their persecution did not end there. The rest of their lives would be forever shaped by the events of October 16, 1968.
I have three reasons to recommend this film. Firstly, it is interesting. As someone who hasn’t heard this story before, I was fascinated. It’s the kind of documentary that made me want to do more research on leaving the theatre. I needed to find out more about the people involved.
Secondly, it is thought provoking. Did their actions make a difference? Has the world changed in terms of racial discrimination over the past 40 years? Do the Olympics really promote equality and friendship? The biggest question for me was why hadn’t I heard of Peter Norman before despite all of his achievements? It’s puzzling that he wasn’t included as part of the major festivities at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Finally, the film is relevant. In the past few months, we’ve seen people protesting against the upcoming Olympics in Beijing because of China’s occupation of Tibet. Some people agree with the protests and others do not. In a way, it’s similar situation to that which we saw in 1968. Will we see further Tibetan protests when the Games kick off in August? What action will the International Olympic Committee take? How will we see these events in 40 years time?
Salute has been put together by Matthew Norman, the nephew of Peter. It includes a mix of archival footage and current day interviews. You’ll hear the thoughts of Peter Norman, Tommie Smith and John Carlos in their own words. I love a good documentary and this film will show you why.