Mile News

The Triumph That Inspired Kenyan Runners to Be Great

August 11, 2012

Kip Keino beat the favored Jim Ryun in the Olympic 1500 meters in 1968, the first chapter in Kenya’s success story in distance running.

By William C. Rhoden, New York Times

In the fall of 1968, I was a college freshman on a football scholarship at Morgan State in Baltimore; Kevin Thompson was a sixth grader living in Harlem. Despite our age difference, we each remember the Mexico City Olympics and the polarizing, often bloody events leading to them.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated that April, and Robert F. Kennedy in June. Russia invaded Czechoslovakia in August. Then, just after I left Chicago for Baltimore, the Chicago police, under the direction of Mayor Richard J. Daley, routed demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention.

Before the Olympics were in full swing, Mexico City was engulfed by violent confrontations between student demonstrators and the police. Revolt, revolution and resistance were in the air, and the Games were not spared.

The Olympic moment that crystallized this tumultuous time took place on Oct. 16, 1968, when the American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved clenched fists on the medal stand as the national anthem was played in a dramatic protest. The spectacle came to be cast and marginalized as strictly an expression of black power.

In fact, what drove Smith and Carlos to demonstrate was a broader concern for human rights and human freedom, with an emphasis on the plight of African-Americans.

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Tags: william c. rhoden (1) , mexico city 1968 (3) , kip keino (7) , kenyan running (1)

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