SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in the air again Friday morning at Echo Summit.
The former Olympians, members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Men’s Track and Field team who raced neck-and-neck in the 200 meters at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, were guest speakers at Return to the Summit, a to commemorate Echo Summit as a California Historic Landmark. The summit served as a high-altitude training center and site of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Track and Field trials.
Four world records were broken at the ’68 trials, including Carlos racing to 19.7 seconds in the 200. Lee Evans took the 400 meters in 44.0 seconds. Geoff Vanderstock completed the 400-meter hurdles at 48.8 seconds and Bob Seagren leaped to a height of 17 feet, 9 inches in the pole vault.
After competing in the 200 meters at the Summer Olympics, in which Smith beat Carlos for the gold medal, both men became famous for their gloved-fist closed hand during the medal ceremony and national anthem in protest of how black athletes were treated leading up to the Olympics.
In front of approximately 1,000 people, Carlos and Smith joined 10 other members from the track squad at the podium at the end of the June 27 ceremony and repeated the same feat that made them famous in Mexico City.
Prior to the start of Return to the Summit, Smith reflected on Echo Summit.
“It’s basically the same,” said Smith, who was surrounded by fans asking for autographs and pictures during the interview. “It’s always nostalgic to come back and take a look at it. Another chapter in the history of one’s life. I love this.”
During his speech, Smith said, “Training with John Carlos was no fun at all. You’d have to run your best just to stay in his shadows.”
The former athlete humble thanked everyone who attended Return to the Summit.
“I appreciate the honesty and the human efforts that put forth here today to make this a time in Tommie Smith’s life,” said Smith. “That remains the rest of his life.”
Then Smith, who turned 70 earlier this month, joked, “And I hope that it’s longer than I feel sometimes.”
Carlos, who turned 69 also earlier this month, said it felt great to “come back home,” enjoyed seeing some friends, in particular one. “I think I saw Smokey the Bear somewhere around here,” said Carlos, as the crowd busted out in laughter.
Then Carlos became serious, pouring out his heart as to what Echo Summit means to him.
“This place breathes, it sweats, it gets cold,” said Carlos, “and more than anything, it manifested. This is where love and the bonding started (with his teammates). Many people talk about how great this team was. Our greatness came from this location.”
He said he felt the seed was planted at the summit and blossomed into an “icon in the world of athletics.”
“Most people didn’t understand who we were,” Carlos continued. “We were all blessed by (training with) the best.”
Teammates who were present with Smith and Carlos were Mel Pender, who competed in the 100 meters; Tracy Smith, 10,000 meters; Geoff Vanderstock and Ron Whitney, 400-meter hurdles; Larry Young, 50-kilometer walk; Ed Caruthers and Renaldo Brown, high jump; Ed Burke in the hammer throw; and Bill Toomey in the decathlon.
The 1968 team won 12 gold medals in the Olympic Games.
The duo and each member of the track team were giving a piece from one of the lanes of the track.
The U.S. Forest Service spearheaded the Return to the Summit.