1968 Olympics, symbol of turbulent times, turn 50


It was 1968, revolt and upheaval were sweeping the world, and the Olympic Games could hardly avoid being swept up, too.

Friday marks 50 years since the 1968 Olympics opened in Mexico City, bringing the worlds of sport and politics crashing together – and broadcasting the collision live around the world on color television for the first time.

It was the year that Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. A year of student protests that exploded in Berlin and Paris and spread around the world. The year the US began to truly question the Vietnam War, and the USSR crushed the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia.

At the Olympics, it was the year of George Foreman, Mark Spitz, Dick Fosbury and his famous “Fosbury Flop,” Tommie Smith and John Carlos with their iconic Black Power salute – and so many more.

As the Games approached, the winds of change were blowing in Mexico, too.

Capitalizing on the international attention, student protesters took to the streets to call for democratic change after four decades of one-party rule.

“We don’t want the Olympics, we want a revolution!” was one of the slogans they chanted.

The turmoil alarmed President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz and the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) as they readied Latin America’s first Olympics.

On the night of October 2, 10 days before the opening ceremony, army troops opened fire on 8,000 peaceful demonstrators in the Plaza of Three Cultures, in the Tlatelolco neighborhood of Mexico City. Independent reports say anywhere from 300 to 500 people were killed.