in the Air, Richard Hoffer
has written a gripping sports narrative that brilliantly tells the
individual stories of the unforgettable athletes who gathered in Mexico
City in 1968, a year of dramatic upheaval around the world.
Those Olympics caught the revolutionary spirit of the times. In these
pages, Hoffer captures the turbulence and offbeat heroism of that
historic Olympiad, which was as rich in inspiring moments as it was
drenched in political and racial tension. This was a year that saw the
assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy; racial
rioting in the nation's big cities; the upheaval at the Democratic
National Convention in Chicago; growing revulsion toward the war in
Vietnam; an inspiring bid for freedom in Czechoslovakia, which was
crushed by Soviet tanks; and student demonstrations seemingly
everywhere, including, fatefully, in Mexico City itself.
star Lew Alcindor (later to become the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
decided not to participate, heavyweight boxer George Foreman not only
competed and won a gold medal, but waved a miniature American flag at
foreign judges. The sprinters Tommie
Smith and John Carlos became as famous for their raised-fist gestures
of protest as their speed on the track
tensions were high on the U.S. Olympic team, where inflamed black
athletes had to choose between demands for justice on one hand and
loyalty to country on the other. No one had easy choices.
No one was prepared for Bob Beamon's long jump, which broke the world
record by a staggering twenty-two inches. And then there was Dick
Fosbury, the goofball high jumper whose backward, upside-down approach
to the bar (the "Fosbury Flop") baffled his coaches while breaking
records. Though Fosbury was his own man, he was apolitical and
easygoing. He didn't defy authority; he defied gravity.
These were a complicated Olympics -- no longer a
reliably reassuring sporting event, a respite from world events. Not
only was the 1968 Olympics a forum for youthful protest, it was a
platform for the lingering racism that divided a nation. The
generational contest that was working itself out in the culture back
home was exploding in Mexico City. Everything was up for grabs.
Professionalism was suddenly overtaking this last outpost of
amateurism, the media was piggybacking a newly inflated spectacle,
nations tussled as usual for international attention. And all the
while, a bunch of kids were pitting their interests against the
world's, weighing performance against politics, in one of the most
exciting sporting events of the twentieth century.
Witty, insightful, and filled with human drama, Something in the Air
mixes Shakespearean complexity with Hollywood sentimentality,
sociopolitical significance, and the exhilarating spectacle of youthful
physical prowess. It is a powerful, unforgettable tale that will
resonate with sports fans and readers of social history alike.
Something in the Air
American Passion and Defiance in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics
by Richard Hoffer