Sport Athletics Peter Norman’s iconic Olympics stance immortalised in bronze statue
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Peter Norman’s iconic Olympics stance immortalised in bronze statue

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1968 Olympic silver medallist Peter Norman was forgotten for standing up to racial injustice. Now, he's immortalised in bronze. Photo: Tom Cowie/Twitter
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It’s one of the most iconic podium protests in world sporting history.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two black American sprinters having just achieved success on athletics’ grandest stage, silently raised opposite fists as Star Spangled Banner reverberated through Mexico City.

The Black Power Salute, and the US civil rights movement at large, was thrust onto a global platform.

Standing alongside them was Australian 200m silver medallist Peter Norman – still the Australian record holder – donned the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity. Solemnly. Controversially.

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Peter Norman stands alongside American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their ‘Black Power’ protest at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. Photo: Getty

The simple act of showing compassion for his fellow man became fodder for Australian athletics officials to bar him from future Olympics teams, despite qualifying for the 1972 Munich Games.

He was forgotten by the history books for half a century. But now, they look kindly upon one of Australia’s most revered athletics legends.

In 2006, the USA Track and Field Federation moved to declare October 9 – the day of his Melbourne funeral – as Peter Norman day.

His US competitors became his pallbearers.

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Peter Norman was once vilified for his controversial stance. Now, his act of solidarity is celebrated. Photo: Getty

Federal Parliament took the extraordinary step to correct the record in 2012, apologising for the mistreatment Norman faced for standing up to racial injustice.

And 13 years after his death, his legacy has been immortalised with the unveiling of a bronze statue outside Lakeside Stadium, south of Melbourne’s CBD.

Victorian Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer Steve Dimopoulos said Norman’s bravery serves as a reminder of values Australians should aspire towards.

“Peter Norman made a stand for humanity 51 years ago and it is a great thing that future generations of Victorians will know his story of strength and decency,” Mr Dimopoulos said.

Wednesday’s unveiling ceremony was attended by a large cohort of Norman’s family.

The group included mother Thelma who, without fail, always carries a bag emblazoned with the famous photograph.

The athlete’s daughter, Janita, said her father never felt fully embraced by Australia before his death. But, he would have been thrilled to have his memory honoured in such a way.

“It’s a good representation – he’s standing tall and proud as he did on the dais,” Ms Norman said.

“He was never one to seek recognition or to push his own agenda or story but I think he would have been absolutely delighted.

“People will now see Peter, and people will know Peter Norman – who he was, what he did and what he stood for. Inspirational then, inspirational now.”

And perhaps now, with his stoic, political stance on full display, budding athletics champions may be inspired to walk, or run, in his formidable footsteps.

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