Two renowned San Jose State University student-athletes raised their arms in a symbolic move for racial equality at the 1968 Olympic Games. Nearly 50 years later, those two men, along with hundreds of others, gathered Monday to relaunch the men's track and field program at San Jose State.
Four days ahead of the Summer Olympic Games in Rio, the university announced that the men's track and field program will be reinstated in 2018 in an attempt to resurrect an athletic legacy of Olympic accomplishments by scores of track-and-field stars over the years, according to the university.
"In bringing back a once-storied athletics program known the world over and building a new track and field venue, we are welcoming home and reuniting with a group of Spartan legends who have left their mark in sports and society as well as providing needed support for our current and future student athletes," San Jose State University President Mary Papazian said in a statement.
Joined by fellow Spartan Olympians, alumnus and faculty, Tommie Smith, 72, and John Carlos, 71, two sprinters that put the university on the map after their infamous 1968 Olympic fist-raising gesture, were on hand to celebrate the announcement in front of a statue marking that landmark moment.
"Look at the face of that young man up there," Smith said of the statue Monday. "That's a cry for freedom."
Smith and Carlos talked about thei experience and offered some advice to today's Olympic athletes.
"If you're going to Rio to compete, that's what you go to Rio to do, not to think about the dangers of health," Smith said.
Said Carlos: "You have to take into account that, yes, you have the spotlight on you, the microphone in your face, and you have the opportunity to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves."
The university hopes to bring a tradition of athletic prestige back to its campus, and the 50th anniversary of the black power salute presents an ideal time to do so, Athletics Director Gene Bleymaier said in a statement.
A new stadium, aptly named Bud Winter Field, in honor of the former Spartans coach that led SJSU from 1941 to 1970, will be the new home for both the men's and women's programs upon its completion in 2018, the university said.
During Winter's 29-year tenure, the San Jose State program became known as "Speed City" after placing 91 student-athletes in top 10 international rankings, sending 27 athletes to the Olympic games and capturing the NCAA crown in 1969, according to the university.
The reinstatement process will cost roughly $5 million and will be funded with the help of the SJSU Student Union along with private gifts from donors, according to the university.
The men's program was terminated in 1988 because of a reallocation of university resources, the university said.