Something in the Air (1968)

There were two noted protests at these Olympics:
that of American sprint medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos
(with fellow sprint medalist, Australian Peter Norman,
meriting at least a footnote)
much talked-about, much written-about both at the time and later,
including books by the participants themselves,
and I don't think I can add anything except to say
that as of today they have received history's vindication
(whether that makes up for their immediate vilification
is a question I can't answer)

The second protest,
that of Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska,
was less talked-about, less written-about at the time:
women's gymnastics was not popular in America,
possibly because it was then performed by actual women
rather than by the deliberately growth-stunted girls of today

Caslavska had signed Two Thousand Words,
a manifesto protesting the Soviet suppression
of The Prague Spring earlier in the year,
she had to flee the city and train in the mountains,
using tree branches as substitute balance beams,
using sacks of flour and potatoes as substitute weights
There was even the possibility
she wouldn't be allowed to leave the country to compete,
but the propaganda value of an Olympic medal
can make up for political heresy to a degree

But in some eyes it can't make up for it completely,
and some of those eyes belonged to Soviet officials
who would be judging the women's gymnastics competition
And though the Soviet judging was suspect in most eyes,
it was allowed to stand and affect the outcome
And so Vera had to share a gold medal
with a Soviet gymnast instead of winning outright
But during the medal ceremony she would subtly protest
the multiple manifestations of Soviet perfidy:
she bowed her head and turned it away
from where the flag had been raised 
as the Soviet national anthem played
The Soviets and their Czech puppets noticed,
and she was made to pay for her heresy:
banned from further competition,
made to slave away at menial jobs,
and generally treated as a non-person
instead of as a national hero

She became a person again after the Velvet Revolution,
and even re-joined the Olympic movement,
first nationally, then internationally
And she too has been vindicated by history,
            perhaps not so strangely,
there are not many people who believe both
in her vindication and that of the sprinters



Michael Ceraolo is a 63-year-old retired firefighter/paramedic and active poet who has had two full-length poetry books published (Euclid Creek, from Deep Cleveland Press; 500 Cleveland Haiku, from Writing Knights Press), and has two more full-length books in the publication pipeline.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 - 20:52