USA Track And Field 'Mourns Loss Of Legend Lee Evans'

USA Track And Field Mourns Loss Of Legendary and Historic Athlete Lee Evans

USA Track and Field (USATF) announced some tragic news on Wednesday regarding US Olympian Hall of Famer and two-time gold medalist Lee Evans (per the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum).

According to USATF, “Olympic gold medalist, world record holder, USATF Hall of Famer and human rights activist Lee Evans died Wednesday at age 74”.

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The US Olympic & Paralympic Museum highlights a significant year for Evans in his track career:

“It was at the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games that Evans, then 21 years old, stepped onto the world stage. The previous year he had become the first person to break the 45-second mark in the 400-meter race. Evans lowered the mark to 44.06 in the U.S. Olympic Trials and then became the first person to break the 44-second mark when he set a new world record of 43.86 seconds in the Mexico City Games final. That mark stood for 20 years.”

US Olympic & Paralympic Museum

Evans was known not only for his talent on the track but also in his passion for civil rights. The US Olympic & Paralympic Museum notes that “Evans’ historic run came at a time of significant unrest in the United States. He was a founding member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, as Black athletes protested for racial equality.”

“Evans was a leading member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an organization that called attention to racial inequality and oppression in the United States and abroad. Along with 1968 Mexico City teammates and 200m medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Evans worked to inform and educate through his efforts in athletics, and on the award stand following his 400m victory he wore a black beret to symbolize solidarity with other civil rights organizations.”

USATF

While the New York Times’ Robert D. McFadden notes that “Evans’s protest at the 1968 Olympic Games made headlines…it was not the one that shocked the world at those Games. That was the riveting image of raised fists on the winners’ platform by both American 200-meter sprint medalists, Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze), in what were widely regarded as defiant Black Power salutes as ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was played and American flags were raised before a packed Olympic Stadium crowd and a global television audience.”

You may recall that image.

The US Olympic & Paralympic Museum states that “Carlos and Smith were expelled from the Olympic Village for their protest and Olympic officials cautioned other athletes about making such public protests. After the clean sweep of the medals in the 400, Evans and fellow Americans Larry Smith and Ron Freeman wore black berets to the medal podium, which they took off during the national anthem.”

According to the New York Times’ McFadden, “The newspaper The Mercury News in San Jose, Calif., where Evans grew up, quoted friends of his as saying that he had died in a hospital in Nigeria after suffering a stroke. Evans was an assistant track coach at a sports academy there run by the Nigerian soccer star Segun Odegbamand had coached African track teams for many years. The paper quoted Odegbami as saying that Evans collapsed last week while having dinner with him and other friends.”

The sports community is remembering and honoring Evans:

  • “It is with profound sadness that I learned of passing of 2-time Olympic Champion & founding ‘Olympic Project For Human Rights’ member/advocate…LEE EVANS,” Dr. Harry Edwards tweeted. “His legacy of contributions to sports & the struggle for social justice is indelible and enduring-R.I.P.”
  • “Just heard the great Lee Evans passed away today,” Michael Johnson tweeted. “1968 Olympic 400 champion. Word record 43.86 stood from 1968 to 1988. He was also influential in the civil rights protest during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. #RIP#Legends#Olympics#trackandfield“.
  • “Our athletics coach for most of the ‘70s, US Olympic Gold Medalist & activist Lee Evans has died at 74,” Gbénró Adégbolátweeted. “He died at Babcock University Teaching Hospital, Ilishan. He had had a stroke last week while on coaching project for secondary school students in Wasinmi, outside Abeokuta.
  • “Lee who first came here in 1975, set many famous Nigerian athletes on their tracks to success,” Adégbolá also tweeted. “Lee Edward Evans, member of the USA Athletics Hall of Fame, now belongs to the ages. May his legacy of youth sports development & struggle for social justice endure for all time.”

The Olympic gold medalist also gave back throughout his life.

“Evans, who coached track-and-field teams in the United States, Africa and the Middle East for many years, was inducted into the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame in Manhattan in 1983 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs in 1989…Lee Edward Evans was born on Feb. 25, 1947, in Madera, Calif., the oldest of seven children of Dayton and Pearlie Mae Evans. His father was a construction worker” according to McFadden.”

San Jose State also mentions an incredible honor bestowed on Evans as SJSUSpartans.com’s Lawrence Fan states “(i)n 1991, he was a recipient of a Nelson Mandela Award given to those who “…stood for the values of equality and friendship and respect of human rights, against apartheid and any form of racism.” 

Dr. Edwards put Evan’s legacy into perspective in light of how athletes today are standing up for social justice (as shared by SJSU):

“Lee Evans was one of the greatest athletes and social justice advocates in an era that produced a generation of such courageous, committed, and contributing athlete-activists…today’s athletes can stand taller, see farther and more clearly, and reach higher in pursuit of achievement and change in both sport and society because they stand on the shoulders of GIANTS such as Lee Evans.”

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