Who’s the greatest sprinter of all time?

Olympic Sprint Legend gets the red carpet treatment for West End Premiere

‘Salute the Movie’ *****

Mayfair Hotel, London, 11th July 2012

Who is the greatest sprinter of all time? Who are the contenders? Have a little think about that.

When most people think of answering that question I suspect the names Usain Bolt, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson and Jesse Owens spring to mind. However, can any of them lay claim to as many World Records as a certain American sprinter who dominated the 1968 Mexico Olympics?  No is the emphatic answer, for not only did Dr Tommie Smith win double Gold in the 100m and 200m, during his career he also broke an astonishing 11, yes you read that correctly ELEVEN, world records.  

On 11th July 2012, just two weeks before the London 2012 Olympic Games, at the Mayfair Hotel’s Crystal Rooms, 200 dignitaries and guests enjoyed red carpet treatment, as they gathered to watch the Operation Black Vote organised, UK Premiere of ‘Salute The Movie.’ This is the film about the famous 1968 ‘Black Power Salute’ given by gold medallist Tommie Smith, plain Mr Smith, as he was then, with John Carlos, bronze, following  the 100m Olympic final.

The event  was  attended by a glittering array of sports and media stars, that had Fleet Street’s press pack in a frenzy, included not only Dr Tommie Smith, but also Mark Foster, Olympic Swimmer; Tessa Sanderson,  Garth Crooks, Jamie Baulch, Sian Lloyd, Imran Khan (Solicitor for Doreen Lawrence) and Trevor Phillips.

An absorbing, funny, inspirational and emotional movie that explores the full and dramatic story of the black power salute that became one of not just athletic’s, but one of the most iconic photographs of all time.duced and directed by Matt Norman, the nephew of Australian Silver medallist Norman Smith, one of the three men on the podium, collecting their Olympic medals, was actually made to tell the real, untold story behind the salute and it’s painful aftermath for the individuals on that podium. Sadly Norman died of a heart attack before getting to see the finished film. 

It tells the full story behind the salute, from the mouths of the three men involved and most vividly recounts the appalling effects on their lives stemming from the decision they took to make a stand against discrimination. An international gesture against the unequal treatment of African-American’s in America as second class citizens. They paid a heavy prize, for they never got to defend their titles and medals by competing in future Olympics, despite that fact that 4 years later, Tommie, Norman Smith (Silver) and John Carlos (Bronze) were still three of the fastest men in the world. They struggled to find employment and between them suffered various personal family tragedies.

There were many moments of humour which brought a wonderful lightness of touch to the film. For instance, when asked what would have happened if Tommie and John had boycotted the Games, Norman replied, “ I’d have got a Gold medal!”

The screening was followed by a Q & A session chaired by Equality & Human Right’s Commission Chair Trevor Phillips OBE. Trevor revealed himself to have been a talented and fast sprinter in his youth and asked a series of very good questions, before opening up the platform to the audience. panelists included Tommie Smith, Tessa Sanderson, Olympic Javelin Gold 1984 and BBC Football pundit and former Spurs Striker Garth Crooks.

Asked for their thoughts on whether the current Black British sports stars were doing enough to take a stand against discrimination the panel thought not. The question was directed at Tommie, but Trevor insisted Garth answer first. This was particularly relevant as this was the date Ashley Cole gave his testimony at the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand trial for on-field racism during the Chelsea-QPR football match, October 2011. I hadn’t heard what he’d said in court, but judging by the pause he was taking to compose his thoughts it was clear he’d not stood up for Anton Ferdinand. Amusingly a heckler shouted out, “Tell the truth!” I think he did by saying sports people, footballer’s, aren’t as vocal as they might be on this subject, but explained that it was very difficult in this day and age for them to do so, compared to in the 1960’s. There’s a lot more money involved and at stake if they fall out of favour with their clubs and sponsors for speaking out on subjects that might be deemed “controversial”; they risk losing their place in the team, the opportunity to represent t their country and may generally find themselves ostracised out of football.          

For me, the saddest thing, was the impact on their live’s, the derogatory and disrespectful treatment they suffered from American officials and society – Tommie lost his job and struggled to find employment, when really in all honesty he and John should have been lauded as American heroes. Instead they were vilified for the black power salute.

Australian Norman suffered too, sporting wise especially, as he too was ostracised by Sport Australia, instead of being rightly feted as an Olympic Silver medallist.

It was also sad to hear that still to this day, Tommie has not been inducted into the US Track and Field Hall of Fame. A double Olympic Gold medallist and 11 x world record holder. It’s utterly disgraceful and I don’t know why America hasn’t made right this wrong.  Mr Obama are you reading this?

It was  mightily impressive  that when asked if he had any regrets and if he would  have done the same again, Tommie said he had no regrets and he’d have made the same stand all over again if he had too, even knowing what he knows now.

The over-riding message was clear. Sometimes in life one has to make a stand.  Life is bigger than sport and these men in the prime of their sporting life’s, sacrificed further athletic glory, for the advancement of their fellow-man. What could be nobler than that?

Salute the movie is on general release.

Tiemo Talk of the Town

20th July 2012

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