Tommie Smith began life quietly, born to Richard and Dora Smith on June 6, 1944, in Clarksville, Texas, the seventh of 12 children. Tommie Smith survived a life-threatening bout of pneumonia as an infant, which allowed him to carry out the work that God intended for him. Today, his historic achievements make him a nationally and internationally distinguished figure in African American history. He is the only man in the history of track and field to hold eleven world records simultaneously. As a college student, Tommie amazingly tied or broke a total of 13 world records in track.
Tommie Smith received his Bachelor of Arts degree from San Jose State University in Social Science, with double minors in Military Science and Physical Education. Tommie received his Masters Degree in Sociology from Goddard Cambridge in Boston, Mass. May 2005 Honorary Doctorate Degree of Humane Letters from San Jose State University.
During the historic 19th Olympiad held in Mexico City, in the summer of 1968, Tommie Smith broke the world and Olympic records with a time of 19.83 seconds and became the 200-meter Olympic champion. As the Star Spangled Banner echoed in the wind, at the Mexico City Summer Olympic Games, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on the victory podium, draped with their Olympic medals, each raised a clinched fist, covered in a black leather glove in a historic stand for human rights, liberation and solidarity. This courageous, unexpected worldwide event propelled Tommie Smith into the spotlight as a human rights spokesman, activist, and symbol of African American pride at home and abroad. Cheered by some, jeered by others, and ignored by many more, Tommie Smith made a commitment to dedicate his life, even at great personal risk, to champion the cause of oppressed people. The story of the "silent gesture" is captured for all time in the 1999 HBO TV documentary, "Fists of Freedom".
Tommie Smith's courageous leadership, talent, and activisim have earned him well-deserved acclaim athletic and humanitarian awards. Some highlights have been: featured in perodicals including Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, and Ebony. In 1978 he was inductee into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, coaching staff of 1995 World Indoor Championship team in Barcelona, Spain, 1996 inductee into the California Black Sports Hall of Fame, 1999 Sportsman of the Millennium Award, May 1999 inductee into the Bay Area Hall of Fame, November 1999 inductee into the San Jose State University Sports Hall of Fame, 2000-2001 Commendation, Recognition and Proclamation Awards from the County of Los Angeles and the State of Texas, New York City to name a few. 2004 dedication of the Tommie Smith gymnasium in Saint-Ouen, France, 2005 the City of La Courneuve, France dedicated the Tommie Smith Sports House.
Since the games of the XIX Olympiad, Tommie has enjoyed a distinguished career as a coach, educator, athletic director and activitist.
At 6'3" and 185 pounds, Tommie Smith had the ideal build for a long sprinter, with trademark-accelerations down the stretch that made him one of the most versatile sprinters in history. With all-time bests of 10.1 seconds for 100 meters, 19.83 seconds for 200 meters and 44.5 seconds at 400 meters, Smith still ranks high on the entire world all-time performance lists.
While a student at San Jose State, Smith was coached by Bud Winter. Smith began making waves in winning the national collegiate 220 yard title in 1967 before adding the Amateur Athletic Union furlong crown soon after. He repeated as AAU 200 meter champion in 1968, making the summer U.S. Olympic team for the Mexico City Games. In the 200 meter Olympic final, Smith blazed home in a world's record time of 19.83 seconds -- even while decelerating towards the finish line with fists of triumph held high as he realized a gold medal run into history.
During his career, Smith set seven individual world records and was a member of several world record relay teams while a student athlete at San Jose State.
Although born in Clarksville, Texas, Tommie began his incredible career in Lemoore, California, when as a fourth grade student he was asked to race against the fastest runner in the school (his sister). He went on to become the only man in the history of track and field to hold eleven world records simultaneously. By the time he graduated from high school, he had been voted “Most Valuable Athlete” three years straight, in basketball, football, and track and field.
Life as a Champion
Tommie was the 200 meter champion in the 19th Olympiad in Mexico City with a time of 19.83 seconds, which was a world record until 1979 and an Olympic record until 1984.
With God-given talent and encouragement to excel, Tommie Smith was propelled into human rights spokesmanship long before it became a popular cause. His concern was for the plight of African Americans and others at home and abroad. Cheered by some, jeered by others, and ignored by many more, Tommie Smith made a commitment to dedicate his life, even at great personal risk, to champion the cause of African Americans sociologically, educationally, morally, athletically, financially, and spiritually. Since the “Stand for Victory”, Tommie Smith has remained as committed and as dedicated to principles that are God-blessed.
He has been featured in such major national publications as Sports Illustrated, Sports Newsweek, Cleveland, Score, Ebony, and Track & Field News among others. Innumerable newspapers and foreign magazines and audio/video media entities continue to seek him out for their features, training products and presentations. He competed and continues to travel throughout various European and Asian nations, and conducts seminars, clinics and delivers speeches in those locations, as well as on domestic college campuses.
In one of his recent speaking engagements, Tommie was asked by an audience member who was there to witness the events in 1968, exactly what he was doing and thinking prior to climbing the victory stand. Tommie strongly reiterated one statement… “Praying.” “I was praying underneath the bleachers, I was praying on the walk up to the victory stand, and the entire time I was up there.”
So the question is, why was this gesture interpreted as an act of disloyalty to the country he represented?
Why do so many Americans still consider this gesture as disrespectful even today, when we consider ourselves to be politically correct and considerably more understanding of cultural differences?
Can we honestly look back at the state of civil rights in 1968 and tell these young Black men that they had no right to choose a worldwide forum to protest inhumane treatment of blacks and other minorities at that Olympic Games
If that is the case, then do we have a right to interfere or protest inhumane conditions in other countries? What about the forms of protest we chose to end Apartheid?
If he had chosen to clasp his hands together in prayer, while bowing his head, would he have still been misunderstood?
Tommie Smith quoted from HBO’s Fists of Freedom, “We were not Antichrists. We were just human beings who saw a need to bring attention to the inequality in our country. I don’t like the idea of people looking at it as negative. There was nothing but a raised fist in the air and a bowed head, acknowledging the American flag – not symbolizing a hatred for it."
Following the games of the 19th Olympiad, Tommie played professional football under the legendary Paul Brown with the Cincinnati Bengals for three years. He went on to become an Assistant Professor of Physical Education at Oberlin College in Northeast Ohio. In that capacity he taught Sports Sociology and numerous life physical education courses, counseled many students and athletes who sought his expertise and advice, coached Track and Field as well as Football and Basketball, and served as Athletic Director.
Having become a member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1978 and serving on the coaching staff of the 1995 World Indoor Championship team in Barcelona, Spain, he continues to expand his horizons of accomplishments. He maintains a busy schedule with pride and dignity. After retiring in 2005 from Santa Monica College where he taught and coached for 27 years. Tommie continue to make the world his classroom, he is dedicating his time to our youth, using track and field as a tool Dr. Smith continues the struggle by bringing awareness to our youth about Health and wellness. The Tommie Smith Youth Track Athletics started seven years ago in Northern California and has spanned to Louisville, Kentucky, New Orleans, La., Washington DC. With other locations to come.
He completed his Autobiography; titled “Silent Gesture” published by Temple University Press in January 2007 the book was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Many awards have been received i.e.; The Peace Abby Courage of Conscience Award, The ESPYS Arthur Ashe Courage Award, the Trumpet Awards, BESLA,’Disrupter for Change Award, Boston Celts, Heroes Among us Award. Boston, Sports Society True Heroes Hall of Fame. Morehouse College, Candle in the Dark Life Time Achievement. 2008 ESPN, Maggie Vision documentary “Return to Mexico City a forty year celebration.
Tommie Smith often quotes “Silver and Gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee” Acts 3:6