MEXICO CITY -- Tommie Smith drove from behind to a world record 19.8 seconds victory in the 200-meter dash despite an injured leg and Bob Seagren survived a 7 1/2 hour battle to win the pole vault Wednesday for the United States -- fifth and sixth gold medals of the Olympic games.
Smith and teammate John Carlos, whom he defeated, then wrote an unusual page in Olympic history as they raised their clenched fists in a "Black Power" gesture during the victory ceremony and followed that up with a news conference in which Carlos said they did it to show black people "are not animals."
Smith ran down John Carlos 50 meters from home to win the 200 and beat his own listed world mark of 20 seconds flat. Carlos, who has a pending 19.7 record in the event, finished third behind Australia's Peter Norman to win the bronze medal.
Seagren, who celebrates his 22nd birthday today, had the fight of his life as Claus Schiprowski of West Germany and Wolfgang Nordwig of East Germany took him right down to the wire before bowing as 60,000 fans watched, the dramatic end of the contest under lights.
All three vaulters cleared 17-8 1/4 and then failed at 17-10 1/2. Seagren, from Pomona, Calif., won on fewer misses in the competition. His victory kept intact America's supremacy in the event in Olympic vault competition.
The leap easily beat the Olympic mark of 16-8 3/4 set by American Fred Hansen at the 1964 Games in Tokyo. In fact, 11 men in the 1968 competition topped that mark in one of the finest all-time displays of vaulting.
Both victories were surrounded by surprises at the victory stand.
The Marquess of Exeter made the presentations in place of Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Committee. Some Negroes have criticized Brundage recently.
At their ceremony, Smith and Carlos raised their right hands aloft in a gesture associated with the Black Power movement in the United States while the National Anthem was played. They also wore black gloves and a button inscribed with the words "Olympic Project for Human Rights."
At the news conference afterward, Smith said, "we are black and we are proud of it. White America will recognize only Olympic champions, black America will understand this. We are proud we did it."
Carlos said he saw many white people in the stands at the ceremony "putting thumbs down on us."
"We want them to know we are not animals, not lower animals, not rats and roaches," Carlos said.
The pole vault ceremony was somewhat different and it involved simple confusion about who was second and who was third. Officials finally straightened it out and Schiprowski got the silver medal and Nordwig the bronze.
There is no telling how fast Smith, whose hometown is Lemoore, Calif., could have run the race because once he had collared Carlos and gone in front, he threw up his arms in the traditional victory salute and coasted in the final five meters. The victory was even more amazing because only two hours earlier, Tommie pulled a leg muscle between his groin and thigh and there was doubt about his competing in the final at all.
Smith's victory in the 200 saved the United States from being embarrassed altogether in the track and field competition as Russia's Janis Lusis, the world record holder, took the gold medal in the javelin; France's Colette Besson won the gold in the women's 400-meter run; Ingrid Becker of West Germany the women's pentathlon; and Kenya's Amos Biwott the 3000 meter steeplechase.
Smith had to share the day's record laurels with Italy's Giuseppe Gentile, who set a world mark of 56-1 1/4 in the triple jump in a preliminary competition.
Gentile, a 25-year-old nephew of famed Italian philosopher Giovanni Gentile, broke one of the oldest records on the books with his leap. The old mark of 55-10 1/2 was set by Poland's Jozef Schmidt in 1960. Schmidt was in the competition here and advanced to the final with a leap of 53-1 1/2.
There were some bright moments for the Yanks, but not as many as expected. Americans advanced only one man into the triple jump final -- Art Walker of Los Angeles -- and just one into the men's hammer final -- Ed Burke of Newport Beach, Calif.
Irv Hall of Philadelphia, Willie Davenport of Baton Rouge, La., and Leon Coleman of Winston-Salem, N.C., easily qualified for the men's 110-meter hurdles semifinals and Lee Evans of San Jose, Calif., Larry James of White Plains, N.Y., and Ron Freeman of Elizabeth, N.J., moved into the second round of the men's 400-meter hurdles.
Hall, Davenport, Coleman and Evans won their heats while James and Freeman were third, although both eased up once they had that spot clinched.
The women's 400 and the javelin finals saw Americans shut out, although none had really figured to win a medal.
Lillian Board of Great Britain took the silver medal in the women's 400 with a 52.1 clocking and the bronze medal went to Russia's Natalia Pechenkina, who was timed in 52.2.
Finland's Jorma Knunen won the silver in the javelin with a throw of 290-7 1/2 and Hungary's Gergeley Kulcsar won the bronze with a throw of 285-7 1/2.
In other events involving Americans, George Foreman, the big heavyweight from Pleasanton, Calif., survived his first hurdle in boxing by decisioning Lucjan Treza of Poland; the waterpolo team defeated Spain, 10-7, as Bruce Bradley of Long Beach, Calif., scored four goals and Russell Webb, also of Long Beach, added three; the men's volleyball team lost to Czechoslovakia, 3-1, and the women's team bowed to Poland, 3-0; and the United States for the first time in Olympic history placed a man in the final eight in sabre fencing as Alfonso Morales of Santa Monica, Calif., advanced through the preliminary pools.