Controversy dogged the Mexico City Olympic Games from first to last. Even before the opening ceremony, a student riot in the city was brutally put down by the authorities, and the berets, black gloves and clenched-fist salutes of the American “Black Power” athletes severely embarrassed the US Olympic Association and led to some athletes being summarily expelled from the games.
Mexico City’s altitude (about 7,000 feet) created a parallel controversy: would the thin air be dangerous for competitors in endurance sports? And would it distort performances in the explosive events?
The results gave the answers. Every running event under 800 metres (with the exception of David Hemery’s 48.10 seconds world record victory for Britain in the 400 metres hurdles) was won by a black American sprinter in, or near, a world record time.
The 1968 Games saw the introduction of sex testing for women, drug testing for all winners, and for the first time the electronic timing was taken as the official record and a synthetic material was used on the athletics track.
American high jumper Dick Fosbury had begun experimenting with a new technique where the jumper goes over the bar headfirst and backwards – now known as the ‘Fosbury Flop’ – five years earlier. This time round he set an Olympic and American record with his jump of 2.24 metres.
Bob Beaman’s long jump record of 8.90 metres, beating the previous record by a massive two feet, was predicted to stand until the twenty-first century. It eventually fell to fellow American Mike Powell’s 8.95 metre leap in 1991.
Another notable performance was by Al Oerter who won his fourth consecutive discus gold. Other British success stories were few and far between – Christopher Finnegan won the middleweight boxing title, Margitta Gummel won the women’s shotput gold, John Braithwaite won the clay pigeon shooting and the Great Britain team claimed the Flying Dutchman yachting and horseriding’s three-day eventing titles.