All sorts of memories were rekindled Friday morning during “Return to the Summit,” a ceremony to recognize the 1968 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials at Echo Summit and to dedicate the site as a California Historical Landmark.
Hall of Famers Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Larry Young and Bill Toomey were just four of the names from a memorable ‘68 U.S. Olympic team who were on hand at the site where a Tartan track was set up among the tall pine trees at Echo Summit’s 7,382-foot elevation. Four world records were broken during those Olympic Trials from Sept. 6-16, 1968, a number unmatched in any track and field competition held on U.S. soil.
It was an emotional occasion, only for the dozen or so 1968 Olympians, but for many of the estimated 300 spectators who turned out for the ceremony.
Carson City resident Mike Louisiana missed qualifying for the Olympic Trials, which were held at the start of his sophomore year at Brigham Young University. He made the trip to Echo Summit to visit with some old friends, some of whom he competed with and against.
“What a nice event that was,” said Louisiana, who reigned as NCAA discus champion for BYU in 1971. “It was great to visit with people from what was a historical event. The ’68 (U.S. Olympic) team was probably the strongest team we’ve ever had … you’re talking about 12 gold medals and some world records.”
One of those old friends Louisiana saw was Ed Burke, who in 1967 set what was then an American record in the hammer throw (235-11). Burke qualified for the 1968 Olympics then came out of retirement to qualify again in 1984 and carried the American flag during the opening ceremonies in Los Angeles.
“It was good to see Ed again,” Louisiana said. “He was there with his grandson, who is going to be a freshman at Los Gatos High School and looks like he is going to be a good thrower.” Smith and Carlos — who gained notoriety for their Black Power salute during the 200 meters medal ceremony in Mexico City — both gave short speeches about their experiences on the track and in regard to the role they played in the Civil Rights movement.
Anthony Davis, a recreation specialist for the Douglas County Parks and Recreation Department, and longtime South Tahoe running coach Austin Angell collaborated on a project in which 1968 Olympians were presented with 3.4-by-4.5-inch commemorative paperweights that contained pieces of the actual track. Davis described the Echo Summit Trials as a “piece of history.”
“That event was fantastic,” Davis said. “It needed to be done decades ago. I just think more people need to understand the significance of that site and what it meant to have the trials there. It was significant not only through the great athletes but through the message of racial equality.”
Fittingly, the section of track was from Lane 3, where Lee Evans ran what was then a world record time of 44.0 in the 400 meters and improved that mark of 43.86 in Mexico City.
In another interesting twist, the paperweights were constructed by longtime South Lake Tahoe resident Terry Tubb, who in 1968 was a middle distance runner at USC and teammate of a few Olympians. Among those teammates were Bob Seagren (who set a world pole vault record at Echo Summit), Geoff Vanderstock (who set a world record in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles at Echo Summit), Lennox Miller (silver medalist in the Olympic 100 meters for Jamaica) as well as Earl McCullough, who held the world record in the 110-meter high hurdles but did not run in the Olympics since he had already signed a contract as a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions).
“It really was an inspiring event,” Tubb said of the dedication ceremony. “The (U.S.) Forest Service did a nice job setting everything up. The talks were sweet and to the point ... I just wanted Tommie Smith and John Carlos to speak longer.”