Mexico City Mexico, 1968

Legacy of the Games

The XIX Olympiad was the first to be held in a developing country, the first hosted by a Spanish-speaking country and the first Games to be held in Latin America at high altitude.

Controversies during the Games included the use of the ‘Black Power’ salute by two American medal-winners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, during their medal ceremony. This protest against racial segregation in the USA caused the two athletes to be expelled from the Olympic Village. Czechoslovakian gymnast Věra Čáslavská also protested against the recent Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia during her two medal ceremonies by quietly turning her head away while the Soviet national anthem was played.

East and West Germany competed separately at these Games for the first time, after competing as a combined team in previous post-World War II Games.

The Mexico City Games were the first at which there was a significant African presence in the men’s distance running competitions. At least one medal was won by an African in all distances from 800m to the marathon and this set a trend for future Games.

Innovations at the 1968 Games included the first use of doping tests for winners. This resulted in the first disqualification for drug use, when a Swedish pentathlete was disqualified for alcohol use (he had drunk several beers just prior to competing). Other innovations included the use of a synthetic all-weather surface for track events; the new ‘Tartan’ surface was originally developed for horse-racing but proved unsuccessful in that discipline. Tracks at previous Olympic Games had been traditional cinder tracks. Events were timed both manually and electronically in 1968 but for the first time the electronic time was used as the official one. This was also the first Games to transmit the Closing Ceremony to the world in colour.

Enriqueta Basilio lit the flame in the Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony – the first woman ever to do so.  Photographs of her carrying the torch and lighting the cauldron appear on the Gallery page for Mexico City 1968  on this website.