John Wesley Carlos (born June 5, 1945) is a former track and field athlete and professional football player. He was the bronze-medal winner in the 200 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics and his Black Power salute on the podium with Tommie Smith caused much political controversy. He went on to tie the world record in the 100 yard dash and beat the 200 meters world record (although the latter achievement was never ratified). After his track career, he enjoyed brief stints in the National Football League and Canadian Football League but retired due to injury.
He became involved with the United States Olympic Committee and helped to organize the 1984 Summer Olympics. Following this he became a track coach at Palm Springs High School. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2003.
He is the author, with sportswriter Dave Zirin, of The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World, published in 2011 by Haymarket Books.
Born in Harlem, New York, of Cuban descent, John Carlos was a gifted high school athlete and outstanding student who went on to study at East Texas State University on a full track-and-field scholarship. His victories in the 100 and 200-meter dash and as a member of the 4×400-meter relay helped lead ETSU to the 1967 Lone Star Conference Championship. After his first year, Carlos enrolled at San Jose State University where he was trained by future National Track & Field Hall of Fame coach, Lloyd (Bud) Winter.
At the 1968 Olympic Trials, Carlos stunned the track world when he won the 200-meter dash in 19.92 seconds, beating world-record holder Tommie Smith and surpassing his record by 0.3 seconds. Though the record was never ratified because the spike formation on Carlos’ shoes (“brush spikes”) was not accepted at the time, the race reinforced his status as a world-class sprinter.
Carlos became a founding member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), and originally advocated a boycott of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games unless four conditions were met: withdrawal of South Africa and Rhodesia from the games, restoration of Muhammad Ali’s world heavyweight boxing title, Avery Brundage to step down as president of the IOC, and the hiring of more African-American assistant coaches. As the boycott failed to achieve support after the IOC withdrew invitations for South Africa and Rhodesia, he decided, together with Smith, to participate but to stage a protest in case he received a medal. Following his third-place finish behind fellow American Smith and Australian Peter Norman in the 200 at the Mexico Olympics, Carlos and Smith made headlines around the world by raising their black-gloved fists at the medal award ceremony. Both athletes wore black socks and no shoes on the podium to represent African-American poverty in the United States. In support, Peter Norman, the silver medalist who was a white athlete from Australia, participated in the protest by wearing an OPHR badge.