News

Lee Evans, Olympic Champ And Human Rights Activist, Dies At 74

by Steve Drumwright

Lee Evans crosses the line to win the Men's 4 × 400 meter Relay event at the Olympic Games Mexico City 1968 on 30th October 1968 at the National Stadium in Mexico City, Mexico.

 

Lee Evans, a gold medalist at the Olympic Games Mexico City 1968 and a human rights activist, died Wednesday, USA Track & Field announced. He was 74.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, Evans suffered a stroke last week while in Nigeria and doctors were only able to keep him comfortable in a hospital there.
Born Feb. 25, 1947, in Madera, California — a small town just north of Fresno in the Central Valley — Evans had a magnificent career at Overfelt High School in San Jose. It was at San Jose State where Evans earned national acclaim as part of the iconic track and field program known as “Speed City.”
Evans won the first of his five U.S. championships in the 400-meter in 1966, then won the NCAA title in 1968. That was the start of a magical summer for Evans. He set a world record of 44.06 seconds during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Echo Summit, California, then shattered that mark at the Olympics in 43.86 seconds en route to winning the gold medal. That record stood for 20 years.
His gold medal in the 400 came shortly after San Jose State teammates Tommie Smith and John Carlos won gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the 200 meters, then famously celebrated by raising a black-gloved fist into the air during the medal ceremony. Evans thought about withdrawing after athletes were warned about not repeating the actions of Smith and Carlos, who were kicked out of the Olympics. Evans did wear a black beret at the medal ceremony.
Evans also won gold on the 4x400 team that set a world record of 2 minutes, 56.16 seconds, a mark that was not broken for more than 24 years.
Evans used his platform to advocate for equality and bring attention to suppression. He was part of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, a group started by Harry Edwards in 1967 that included Smith and Carlos.
In 1983, Evans was elected to the USATF National Track & Field Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame. Among his other athletic accomplishments, Evans won the 400 at the 1967 Pan American Games and finished fourth in the same event at the 1972 Olympic Trials, which did earn him a spot on the 4x400 relay team.
Evans later trained athletes across 20 countries, including directing the national teams of Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.


Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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