John Carlos expansive on every topic but Tommie Smith
They were linked forever by their historic moment of protest on the medal stand at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but the bond between U.S. sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith has long since been broken.
The two went back to Mexico City with a documentary crew in recent years and were seen together accepting an award at the ESPYs three years ago, but their feud has been well documented.
Carlos was expansive during a nearly two-hour long interview with the Star this week to promote his autobiography The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed The World with Dave Zirin, except when it came to the topic of Smith.
“I have no comment,” said Carlos curtly. “None.”
Carlos was asked whether there was a significance to the fact he wore a black glove on his left fist while Smith wore his on the right.
“It was one pair of gloves. Both of us couldn’t use the right hand. It was Tommie’s gloves so he took the right and I took the left.”
Smith had actually brought the gloves in case he had to shake hands with despised IOC leader Avery Brundage.
Carlos said people were suspicious of him for wearing the glove on his left hand. They thought he was a Communist.
“I didn’t even know what a Communist was,” he said.
Carlos and Smith returned to the site of their powerful protest for the documentary Return to Mexico City three years ago. It was an incredible experience for him to be in that stadium again.
“It was a living organism,” said Carlos. “When I went inside, man, I could see the people in the stands, I could feel the energy of the people in the stands. Walking on the track, I could see the people doing the races.
“To walk around the track with Tommie and get to the precise spot where they started that race, the rain that happened that day came back at the precise moment. To walk out and get on the victory stand and let your mind just run, you could hear the instant cheers, then you can hear the silence and then you can hear the roar of boos.”
Carlos said he’d had a vision when he was seven or eight years old that foretold that day some 15 years later in Mexico City,. In it, he was standing on a box and people were applauding and suddenly it turned from sunshine to stormy weather.
“It shook me up because I didn’t know what I’d done to those people,” said Carlos. “My Dad asked me ‘Johnny, what’s the matter?’ I told him ‘Daddy, I was in a movie and then everybody got mad at me and started throwing things at me and call me names and spitting at me.’ It’s exactly what happened in Mexico.”
Carlos was sporting a brand new Aloutettes baseball cap while in town – a present someone gave him here to honour his brief stint in the CFL in the ‘70s when he was recruited by the legendary J.I. Albrecht. He loved the city and developed a passion for poutine, as he mentions in his book.
“It wasn’t safe for me in the United States based on my experience at the Olympics,” he said. “It was like a godsend when he called me.”
The book is definitely worth reading. It’s a compact 184 pages
. “We didn’t want to do overkill,” said Carlos. “We wanted to go to the meat. We wanted people to feel like when they opened that book, they walked into a time tunnel, that they’re living it right now.”