1968 Summer Olympics

Facts

Competition type Olympic Games
Host city Ciudad de México, Mexico (Venues)
Opening ceremony 12 October
Closing ceremony 27 October
Competition dates 12 – 27 October
OCOG Organizing Committee of the Games of the XIX Olympiad
Participants 5558 from 112 countries
Medal events 172 in 23 disciplines
Other events 15 in 2 disciplines

Overview

In 1963, the IOC awarded the Olympics to Mexico despite some warnings about the effects of competing at the altitude (2,134 metres) of Mexico City. The warnings would prove prophetic, both for good and bad, but also prominent at Mexico City was the first large-scale incursion of politics directly into the Olympic venues.

Political problems manifested themselves as protests by Mexican students before the Games. The students were upset that so much money was spent on the Olympics in the face of such widespread poverty in their country. As the protest movement gathered momentum leading up to the Games, the Mexican Army took charge on the night of 2 October. As 10,000 people demonstrated in the Square of the Three Cultures in Mexico City, the Army surrounded the crowd and soon opened fire. More than 250 people were killed and thousands were injured.

In the United States, Harry Edwards, a professor at San Jose State University, urged blacks to boycott the Olympics to protest the rampant racism of American society. The boycott never materialized. However, his efforts came to fruition in the victory ceremony of the 200 metres. The race was won by Tommie Smith (USA) with the bronze medal going to John Carlos (USA). On the victory platform, as “The Star Spangled Banner” played in the background, almost unheard, the two black Americans stood barefooted, heads bowed, and each raised a singled black-gloved fist in their own form of protest. The IOC banned the two from future Olympic participation and ordered them to leave the Olympic Village immediately.

On a more positive political note, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) entered separate national teams for the first time.

The altitude severely affected many track & field events. Bob Beamon used the lesser gravity to set a stunning world record in the long jump of 8.90 (29-2½). In the 100, 200, 400, 400 metre hurdles, 4×100 relay, 4×400 relay, and the triple jump, all sprint or sprint-related events not requiring much oxygen, and aided by the lessened pull of gravity, new world records were set by the men. Many of these records would not be broken for years.

But the distance running events saw very slow times, as the runners gasped for the oxygen that was not there. In the 5,000 metres, the winning time was the slowest in 16 years. In the marathon, Mamo Wolde (ETH) won in a time eight minutes slower than his countryman, Abebe Bikila, had posted in Tokyo. Bikila ran in Mexico but was hampered by a stress fracture and withdrew at 27 km (17 miles).

The two saddest sights attributed to altitude were the men’s 1,500 metres and 10,000 metres. In the 1,500 the race was seen as a dual between Kenya’s Kip Keino, who had grown up at altitude and trained there regularly, and America’s Jim Ryun. Ryun had become the dominant miler in the world in the past few years, though he was slightly less so in 1968 due to health issues. Still, he was no match for Keino in the thin air of Mexico and had to settle for the silver medal. It is possible that Keino would have won at any altitude but there is no way to know.

In the 10,000 metres, Australia’s Ron Clarke, one of the finest distance runners ever against the clock, was still searching for his first gold medal. He ran himself into exhaustion, but through 8,000 metres, the lead pack was Clarke and Naftali Temu (KEN), Mamo Wolde (ETH), and Mohamad Gammoudi (TUN) – all altitude-trained Africans. Clarke was dropped at that point and finished 6th. At the finish he collapsed, ashen-faced, and lay unconscious, near death, for 10 minutes as the Australian team doctor wept openly while administering to him. Clarke recovered fully, but he would never win an Olympic gold medal.

Bid process

Bid voting at the 61st IOC Session in Baden-Baden, West Germany on 18 October 1963.

Round 1
Mexico City Mexico 30
Detroit, Michigan United States 14
Lyon France 12
Buenos Aires Argentina 2

Ceremonies

Officially opened by Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (President)
Torchbearer(s) Enriqueta Basilio (Lit flame)
Taker of the Athlete's Oath Pablo Garrido
Flagbearers Full list
Olympic Flag Bearers Unknown cadets of the Mexican Naval Academy and six unknown Japanese girls

Medal Disciplines

Artistic Gymnastics Equestrian Dressage Sailing
Athletics Equestrian Eventing Shooting
Basketball Equestrian Jumping Swimming
Boxing Fencing Volleyball
Canoe Sprint Football Water Polo
Cycling Road Hockey Weightlifting
Cycling Track Modern Pentathlon Wrestling
Diving Rowing

Other Disciplines

Basque pelota Tennis

Medal table

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
United States USA 45 28 34 107
Soviet Union URS 29 32 30 91
Japan JPN 11 7 7 25
Hungary HUN 10 10 12 32
East Germany GDR 9 9 7 25
France FRA 7 3 5 15
Czechoslovakia TCH 7 2 4 13
West Germany FRG 5 11 10 26
Australia AUS 5 7 5 17
Great Britain GBR 5 5 3 13
Poland POL 5 2 11 18
Romania ROU 4 6 5 15
Italy ITA 3 4 9 16
Kenya KEN 3 4 2 9
Mexico MEX 3 3 3 9
Yugoslavia YUG 3 3 2 8
Netherlands NED 3 3 1 7
Bulgaria BUL 2 4 3 9
Islamic Republic of Iran IRI 2 1 2 5
Sweden SWE 2 1 1 4
Turkey TUR 2 0 0 2
Denmark DEN 1 4 3 8
Canada CAN 1 3 1 5
Finland FIN 1 2 1 4
Ethiopia ETH 1 1 0 2
Norway NOR 1 1 0 2
New Zealand NZL 1 0 2 3
Tunisia TUN 1 0 1 2
Pakistan PAK 1 0 0 1
Venezuela VEN 1 0 0 1
Cuba CUB 0 4 0 4
Austria AUT 0 2 2 4
Switzerland SUI 0 1 4 5
Mongolia MGL 0 1 3 4
Brazil BRA 0 1 2 3
Belgium BEL 0 1 1 2
Republic of Korea KOR 0 1 1 2
Uganda UGA 0 1 1 2
Cameroon CMR 0 1 0 1
Jamaica JAM 0 1 0 1
Argentina ARG 0 0 2 2
Chinese Taipei TPE 0 0 1 1
Greece GRE 0 0 1 1
India IND 0 0 1 1

Most successful competitors

Athlete Nat Gold Silver Bronze Total
Věra Čáslavská CZE
TCH
4 2 0 6
Akinori Nakayama JPN 4 1 1 6
Charlie Hickcox USA 3 1 0 4
Sawao Kato JPN 3 0 1 4
Debbie Meyer USA 3 0 0 3
Mikhail Voronin URS 2 4 1 7
Sue Pedersen USA 2 2 0 4
Mike Wenden AUS 2 1 1 4
Jan Henne USA 2 1 1 4
Mark Spitz USA 2 1 1 4

All medalists at these Games