When two Black sprinters raised their fists in protest at the 1968 Olympic Games, it shook the world. More than 50 years later, the ripple effects of their activism are still felt. In this new series from Pushkin Industries, get to know the runners who took a stand, and the coaches and mentors who helped make them fast enough — and brave enough — to change the world. Hosted by Malcolm Gladwell.
Episode 1: Relax and Win
A small group of people — all connected to a second-tier state college — revolutionized coaching and athletic activism in the 1960s. In this episode, we hear how coach Bud Winter took what he learned from working with fighter pilots in World War II and created a system for training sprinters at San Jose State. His “Relax and Win” methods used breathing, visualization and other unconventional coaching techniques to create a powerhouse track program. Another thing that made him unique at the time? His focus on recruiting Black athletes to a mostly white school.
Episode 2: Building a Movement
By the early 1960s, Speed City was earning a reputation for breaking records. But Bud Winter’s track program was broke. He stretched his scholarship budget so far that many athletes struggled to make ends meet. That, coupled with the racism Black athletes faced on the mostly white campus of San Jose, ignited the budding activist Dr. Harry Edwards. He wanted to take a page out of the playbook being written by civil rights leaders of the moment like Dr. King. And he realized the attention paid to Black athletes gave them the power to be heard.
Episode 3: Exit, Voice or Loyalty
Tommie Smith. Lee Evans. John Carlos. Hear how these three legendary sprinters all ended up at San Jose State. They spurred each other to record-breaking success – and became leaders in the movement to boycott the 1968 Olympic Games. Their mentor and professor Dr. Harry Edwards found them to be the perfect students for his “Revolt of the Black Athlete”. The tragedy and chaos in America leading up to the Games made the decision to take a stand seem essential. But not all athletes wanted to miss their shot to compete.
Episode 4: The Mexico City Games
After months of debate about whether to boycott or not, our trio of Speed City sprinters are headed to Mexico City. In this episode, we zoom in on those fateful days: From the penultimate race that left Tommie Smith injured, to the world-record breaking 200M finals, to Smith and Carlos’ protest and expulsion from the games. Then, their teammate Lee Evans is set to run his races, but the pressure of the games – and whether and how to protest – almost keeps him off the track altogether. Coach Bud Winter plays a quiet but important role throughout these days, where his relaxation training faces its biggest challenge yet: Young athletes thrust onto a global stage with the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Episode 5: The Legacy
The track in San Jose has been turned into a parking lot. But the legacy of Speed City is alive and well, on and off the track. More than half a century after Tommie Smith and John Carlos sprinted their way into the spotlight and shocked the world with a silent protest on the victory stand, the ripple effects of their actions can still be felt today. Their mentor Dr. Harry Edwards is still a central figure in the world of sports too. He works closely with activist athletes like Colin Kaepernick and consults with professional sports leagues on issues of racial equity. And the coaching methods of Bud Winter? They transformed the sport, and are deep in the DNA of some of the world’s best sprinters.
Episode 6: Live in Eugene
Legendary sprinters Wyomia Tyus, Ato Boldon and Tommie Smith join host Malcolm Gladwell live on stage for a conversation about sports and activism. Recorded live at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
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It’s amazing that any topic Malcolm picks turns into something so interesting. Love him!!
Thank you for sharing the story of such important moments in the history of the ongoing fight for Civil Rights in this country. I enjoyed this entire podcast with the exception of one comment. During your description of Lee Evan’s podium ceremony you stated, “then when the star spangled banner played he lowered his fist and removed his beret. He showed his anger but stopped short of disrespecting his country”. I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement and if true than you are saying that the protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos and the protests inspired by Colin Kaepernick were disrespectful as well. Rather than being disrespectful I see these moments as the greatest form of respect as they seek to challenge the myth of our democracy in this country. The only disrespect in this situation was directed by the United States towards these courageous men.
Pushkin keep telling these important stories!
Malcolm chooses really important stories in history and then opens them up for all to experience. The SJSU track history is important for all to hear. Great podcast. Thank you Malcolm!