The Americans’ actions at the 1972 Games had echoes of Tommie Smith and John Carlos. But today their story has been largely forgotten.

Fifty years ago this week, two African American athletes, Vincent Matthews and Wayne Collett, won gold and silver respectively in the 400m at the Munich Olympics. At the medal ceremony they threw themselves into the maw of history.

During the US national anthem, the athletes shared the top tier of the podium – which would usually have been reserved for Matthews alone as the winner – an act of unity that broke Olympic protocol. They angled their backs away from the American flag and chatted casually, looking uninterested. Matthews rubbed his chin pensively before folding his arms. Collett stood barefoot, jacket open with hands on hips. As they departed, Matthews twirled his medal on his finger while Collett thrust a clenched fist into the air.

The International Olympic Committee’s response...

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Author: Jules Boykoff