Tommie Smith is standing in Colorado Springs sunshine, surrounded by his 1968 Olympic teammates.

He is, more than any elite athlete in American sports history, defined by a single moment. If you’re old enough, you likely remember Smith’s right fist, covered with a tight black glove, held high on the medal stand as he called for justice for all Americans.

His fist and his call for justice made him famous, and infamous. That fist overshadowed a spectacular track performance, a world-record 19.83-second sprint to gold in the 200. The record stood 11 years.

But he’s more than just a fist. He served as an educator for more than three decades, and he’s been a loyal friend over the decades to his 1968 Olympic teammates.

When he talks to those teammates, the discussion seldom turns to the fist.

“We talk about life in general,” Smith says. “I was a school teacher for 36 years, so we talk about the students. Politics I don’t talk about a lot. I like to talk about life and living in general and my kids and kids in general.”

He pauses.

“But, of course, don’t forget to bring the food out.”

Smith is that way. You expect a serious revolutionary, and instead you get a jolly revolutionary.

On Saturday morning at the Olympic Training Center, Smith stands at the top of a long outdoor stairway. He’s speaking through a microphone to 120 of his 1968 teammates, who have traveled to Colorado Springs for a reunion. They are preparing to light a cauldron to commemorate their visit.

“My name is Tommie Smith, 200-meter gold medalist,” he says in a clear, booming voice. “I’m convinced this is the greatest Olympic and Paralympic team ever assembled.”

The crowd responds to the compliment with spirited applause.

“We agree that time changes things and age is relentless,” Smith says as his audience nods in agreement.

Age has not been so relentless with Smith, though. At 74, he still looks as if he could defeat 99 percent of his countrymen, regardless of age, in the 200 meters.

For Smith, there was no question he would join this reunion.

“I never want to stay away,” he says. “It’s a coming back for me, and I never left home. I was always an Olympian. I always will be an Olympian, never in the past, always here.”

On Oct. 16, 1968, Smith roared to gold after one of the most blazing finishes in track history. At the medal stand, he and bronze medalist American teammate John Carlos slipped black gloves over their fists, which they raised high into the Mexico City night.

Two days later, Smith and Carlos were banished from the Olympic Village and suspended by the U.S. Olympic Committee. They were, for a time, pariahs in their homeland.

Delois Smith, Tommie’s wife of 21 years, says the protest was long misunderstood. Smith represented all oppressed people, which is why his fist remains relevant.

“With our country, with things falling apart, people now are trying to come together,” she says. “Everybody wants to have equality. People want to accept everybody, with equal rights for everyone. You have gender. You have the gay rights. You have everybody. Everybody wants their rights.

“... Just because he was the black man with the black glove, everybody said that was the black power but it covered everybody for rights. Everybody.”

Smith smiles as he travels back to 1968. He was, he says, an “outcast” for a time, but he believes his fellow Americans eventually joined his crusade. It’s similar to a sprint relay, he says. Many Americans joined him on the first three trips around the track, but some waited for the final lap.

The fist and the protest were not inspired by anger.

“Just a pure statement of love and what love can do,” he says.

“I’m telling you, I think it has a meaning in perpetuity.”

His raised fist, 50 years ago this month, was a call for all Americans to be given equal rights to chase their dreams.

“A life that we all would want to have, and that’s the need for each other,” he says.

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