August 3, 2021

The Games of amazement | sports

The Games of amazement | sports

Two generations and 12 Olympic editions later, the Games of Mexico 68 They maintain their incomparable power of fascination. Rarely, perhaps never, has there been a similar storm of astonishing records, technological transformations, a political tear and the dose of uncertainty that represented those two weeks in the Mexican capital, at almost 2,300 meters high, in a year that moved the world . What happened there approaches the centimeter to the idea of ​​magical realism. There were episodes that seemed impossible, with a legacy that, far from being extinguished, remains as alive as it was then.

50 years have passed since the records of Bob Beamon, Jim Hines, Tommie Smith and Lee Evans, of the vibrant irruption of African athletics and of the formidable struggle of the Czech Vera Caslavska with the Soviet gymnasts, but the time remains immobile with respect to the political events that took place in Mexico City. It is not possible to disconnect the impact of Black Power in those Games with the current trail of protests in American sports, led by several African-American stars of the caliber of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid.

The 'Black Power' is linked to today's protests in the United States

Hardly anything has changed around the role of the athlete in society, consciously represented on the podium in Mexico by sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos: fist held high, black gloves and humiliated head while listening to the United States anthem. Instructed and encouraged in the Black Power (Black Power) by Harry Edwards, a young professor of Sociology at San Jose State University, his demonstration has transcended time. The message of Smith and Carlos – staged after their protest, social heroes decades later – overwhelmingly surpassed the metaphorical effect of the victories of Jessie Owens in front of Hitler, in the 1936 Games.

Two years ago, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, He decided to kneel before each game, during the anthem. He protested against police violence in the African-American community and racial segregation. His action deserved a response similar to that received by Smith and Carlos, dispatched from the Olympic Village and crushed by the media. Unlike in 1968, Kaepernick found help in many of the black athletes of the leading professional sports, especially in the NFL and NBA, and in athletes, coaches -Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich have been meaningful in their support- and a considerable part of journalism.

The answer, however, has been as or more radical than at that time. President Donald Trump has branded as cowardly and unpatriotic the main representatives of the protest movement. He has also ensured that the role of athletes is reduced to that of simple entertainers. The pressure of Trump has reached the millionaire leaders of the NFL, who have forbidden to kneel to the players during the ceremony of presentation of the matches.

The relation nothing hidden between these events and those that vertebraron Tommie Smith and John Carlos evokes an imperishable Games, most significant of the history in many aspects. Apprehension surpassed certainties when the Mexican capital was designated as the venue for the Games. Topical doubts about the ability of Hispanic Americans to organize them were sown from the United States. The world vicissitudes – the Vietnam War, the French May, the Prague Spring, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the guerrilla insurrection in Latin America – placed the 68 Games in a scenario of enormous uncertainty, multiplied by the Tlatelolco massacre, where 10 days before the start of the Games, dozens of students were killed by order of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, president of Mexico. Another element invited panic: the altitude of the city, located at 2,240 meters above sea level. Apocalyptic predictions abounded.

The suspicions vanished immediately. Favored by innovative materials -for the first time an Olympic stadium had a synthetic track- and altitude, American sprinters wiped the world records of 100, 200 and 400 meters from the first day. In all cases, they achieved brands that are perfectly contemporary: 9.95 seconds, 19.83s and 43.86s. None was more famous than the 8.90 meters crowned by Bob Beamon in the long jump. It is still the second longest legal jump in history [Mike Powell saltó 8,95m en 1991], the iconic record by nature of an Olympic Games that also defined the unstoppable power of the African long distance runners and left for posterity the extravagant style of a skinny American jumper. His name was Dick Fosbury and he leaped with his back to the rod. It had to happen in Mexico 68. No Olympic Games have better covered the unforeseen and heterodox.

Innovators and of Latin character

Altitude. They were the first Games that were not held at sea level. The seat was Mexico City, at 2,240 meters of altitude. Since then the highest has been Munich, in 1972, with 519 meters.

Finance. The Games had a total cost close to 152 million euros: 46 for sports facilities, 14 for urban works, 14 for the Liberator Villa Miguel Hidalgo, 11 for the Narciso Mendoza Olympic Village and 66 for expenses of the Olympic Committee.

Travel. The route of the Olympic torch sought to emulate the route that Christopher Columbus followed during his first trip: from Athens (Greece), passed through Genoa (Italy), Las Palmas (Spain), San Salvador (Bahamas) to Veracruz (Mexico).

Participants. There were 5,516 athletes, 4,735 men and 781 women, from 112 committees affiliated with the IOC. The Spanish delegation brought 128 athletes (only two women).

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