3-Minute Interview: Olympic sprinter Tommie Smith, icon for giving black power salute

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Photo - Tommie Smith, then and now: In the picture at left, Smith, center, and John Carlos give the "black power" salute at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. In the photo at right, Smith holds up his "Heroes Among Us" award during the first half of an NBA basketball game in 2009. (AP photos)
Tommie Smith, then and now: In the picture at left, Smith, center, and John Carlos give the "black power" salute at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. In the photo at right, Smith holds up his "Heroes Among Us" award during the first half of an NBA basketball game in 2009. (AP photos)
Local,Sports,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Smith is a former Olympic sprinter. In 1968, he won the 200-meter dash and became a civil rights icon for striking the black power salute on the podium. On Saturday, he is scheduled to be in D.C. attending the 5th Annual Tommie Smith Youth Track Meet, hosted by 100 Black Men of Greater Washington, DC.

What are you hoping for at the event Saturday?

Of course, we're going to find some fast kids there. But I'm more concerned about the health care and the promotion of education for the students and parents and making this a lifestyle. It's not just a track meet; it's hopefully learning a lifestyle. There are five hospitals represented there, and there are free clinics on that day.

How has the emphasis on health changed since when you were competing?

I had no idea of health when I was competing. I just ran fast. I just wanted a chance to compete, something other than being in the cotton fields working.

What do you hope to achieve by focusing on urban youths?

My major emphasis is on inner-city kids, the kids who see in the classroom but don't understand it, but they understand competition. By doing this and incorporating it through athletics, they'll have a better idea and understand it. Enjoyment is opening the body to accept more than just the negatives you find in a classroom. Dikembe Mutombo is basically doing the same things for the Congo. I asked him, "What do you get out of this?" He said, "The satisfaction of knowing I might be touching one. One life is very important."

What will you be doing Saturday?

I leave the field and go up in the stands. They don't know me. But they know the name. Somebody might say, "That's Tommie Smith," and then the parents look and the kids look. They don't know who I am, but it represents something to them, and that's what I enjoy. - Steve Contorno

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