LAKE TAHOE — On Friday, June 27, a group of 1968 Olympians will attend a “Return to the Summit” celebration organized by the U.S. Forest Service. A plaque set in a large granite boulder will be displayed, marking Echo Summit as a California Historical Landmark.
The event will begin at 10:30 a.m. and is open to the public.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the record-setting sprinters best known for their gloved-fist protest on the victory stand at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, are expected to be joined at the reunion by Olympic teammates Ed Burke (hammer throw), Ron Whitney (400-meter hurdles), Ed Caruthers (high jump), Norm Tate (triple jump), Larry Young (50-kilometer walk), Reynaldo Brown (high jump), Dave Maggard (shot put) and Vince Matthews (4 x 400 relay).
“It is important that we acknowledge this significant piece of civil rights history, as well as the records that were set,” said Laurence Crabtree, forest supervisor, in a statement.
To replicate the high altitude of Mexico City, officials from the United States Olympic Committee selected Echo Summit as the site of a high-altitude training camp as well as the 1968 U.S. Men’s Final Olympic Track and Field Trials from Sept. 6-16. Echo Summit’s elevation of 7,377 feet is 28 feet higher than Mexico City’s.
The Forest Service approved the construction of a 400-meter track in the middle of the forest atop Echo Summit, where four world records were set. Hundreds of trees remained inside the oval.
The men’s team selected at Echo Summit was one of the strongest in Olympic track history. The U.S. men won 12 gold medals and broke six world records in Mexico City.
“People were competing to prove a point, and they all dug a little deeper,” hammer thrower Harold Connolly said in a statement. “Because of the setting and the circumstances (of the Civil Rights Movement), we were never closer than we were at Echo Summit. It was one of the most important track meets in U.S. history. It wasn’t one lonely voice in the wilderness.”
Following the Olympic Trials, the Echo Summit track was disassembled and transported to South Lake Tahoe Intermediate School, where it served the community for several decades. The outline of the long-removed track can still be seen at Echo Summit, which is now the site of Adventure Mountain, a winter recreation park.
Following the 90-minute ceremony on June 27, the Olympians will head to Sacramento, where they will be introduced to the crowd that evening during the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium.
California Historical Landmarks are buildings, structures, sites or places that have been determined to have statewide historical significance. In presenting the nomination to the commission, William Burg, a state historian in the Office of Historic Preservation, cited the success of the 1968 U.S. men’s Olympic team in Mexico City and its commitment to the civil-rights issues of that tumultuous time.
There are more than 1,000 state historical landmarks in California, and Echo Summit is just the fifth sports-related site. Others include the Los Angeles Coliseum, Long Beach Marine Stadium, Squaw Valley Ski Area and the Pioneer Ski Area in Johnsville.