Host City: Ciudad de México, Mexico
Date Started: October 13, 1968
Date Finished: October 20, 1968
Participants: 1,028 (785 men and 243 women) from 92 countries
Youngest Participant: Esther Stroy (15 years, 64 days)
Oldest Participant: Guðmundur Hermannsson (43 years, 78 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): 13 athletes with 2 medals
Most Medals (Country): United States (28 medals)
The biggest concern for the first Olympics held in America, but not the United States, was the fact that Ciudad de México sits at an altitude of 2,244 metres (7,360 feet). No previous Summer Olympics had been held at more than 200 metres of altitude. While fast times were expected in the sprint races, there was great concern about the lack of oxygen’s effect on the distance runners. Both expectations came true. World records were set in the 100, 200, 400, and several were set in the triple jump. In the long jump, Bob Beamon simply jumped into the next century, winning the gold medal with a meteoric 8.90 metres (29-2½), surpassing the world record by almost two feet, and winning the competition by 71 centimetres (28 inches). His world record would last for 23 years, broken in 1991 by Mike Powell at the 1991 World Championships. On the track, the 5,000 and 10,000 were won in very slow times, as the altitude affected the runners. And both races were won by African who had grown up at altitude – Mohamed Gammoudi (TUN) in the 5K and Kenya’s Naftali Temu in the 10K. One of the saddest sights of the Games came at the end of the 10K, when Australian distance runner Ron Clarke, world record holder and the favorite going into the Olympics, collapsed at the finish line. The doctors who ran to revive him were startled to see the condition of this superb athlete and openly wept in front of the Stadium crowd. Fortunately, he fully recovered. The marathon was also won by an African, with Ethiopia’s Mamo Wolde winning the third straight gold medal in that race for his nation. Two-time defending champion Abebe Bikila started but had to stop because of a stress fracture in his leg. On the field, Al Oerter won his fourth consecutive gold medal in the discus throw, the first athlete to win four consecutive gold medals, excluding the 1906 Olympics. Among the women, Wyomia Tyus became the first person, male or female, to defend the gold medal in the 100 metres.
The biggest controversy of the 1968 Olympic athletics came in the medal ceremony for the 200 metres. The race was won by American Tommie Smith with his teammate John Carlos earning a bronze medal. Both Smith and Carlos had been part of discussions by American blacks about boycotting the 1968 Olympics, but eventually all of them competed. But on the medal podium, to protest the treatment of American blacks, while the American anthem played, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and raised a single black-gloved fist. It was not well-received and Smith and Carlos were asked to leave the Olympic Village by the IOC, but they have since been lauded for their quiet protest.