Wakefield vs fastest man on the planet

24th January 2011.' TRINITY LEGEND IAN BROOK with his 63 Wembley shirt.
24th January 2011.' TRINITY LEGEND IAN BROOK with his 63 Wembley shirt.

HE was the Usain Bolt of his day but his political beliefs led Tommie Smith to be ousted from his US home and forced to travel the globe trying to earn a living.

And 40 years ago the fastest man on the planet Tommie Smith raced at Wakefield Trinity’s Belle Vue home.

Olympic champion Mr Smith caused controversy at the 1968 Mexico Games by giving a black power salute from the top of the podium after receiving his gold medal.

And in the summer of 1972 he was racing at the Belle Vue ground.

Mr Smith and his team-mate John Carlos, who finished third, were banned from the Olympics after their 200m medal presentation protest.

World record holder at 200m, Mr Smith was forced to travel the globe to pay “for rent and food”.

And so it was that Mr Smith strutted out onto Trinity’s turf for a “Sporting Spectacular” to take on some of the world’s fastest men.

He also gave youngsters from Wakefield Harriers and Manygates School athletics team a master-class in sprinting.

Looking on from the terraces on July 22, 1972 was Wakefield Trinity legend Ian Brooke.

Challenge Cup winner Mr Brooke, 67, said: “We all wanted to see him run because he was like the Usain Bolt of his day.

“Everybody went down to see what his pace was like. It was very rare to see anybody like that in the flesh. I just thought it was awesome.”

The former Great Britain player recalled the backlash Mr Smith and Mr Carlos faced after their protest.

He said: “People remember the two of them on the podium with their black gloves giving the black power salute. Certain pictures you remember for a lifetime.”

Mr Brooke recalled watching Mr Smith race round the pitch and - even more amazingly – getting beaten.

The Olympic champion lost three of his four rain-hit races to Scotland’s George McNeil, 25.

Mr Smith had flown in from California to take part in the two-day event, which was organised by Wakefield Trinity Supporters Club.

He won the opening 220 yards sprint but lost the 110, 110 and 80 yard dashes to Mr McNeil.

Some of the event was filmed and it has been the subject of a documentary on BBC4.

Some footage of Mr Smith putting young athletes through their paces has been posted on the video-sharing website, Youtube.

Current Wakefield Harriers’ president John Newsome, 69, watched it this week.

He said: “Those kids being coached by Tommie Smith were definitely Wakefield Harriers because they have Wakefield Harriers’ running vests on. I certainly went that day.”

Mr Newsome, of Netherton, also recalled watching the likes of Neil Fox playing in a seven-a-side tournament for Wakefield Trinity. But the home side ultimately lost to Halifax.

And former mayor Norman Hazell, 78, also remembered the “paper talk” about the possibility of Tommie Smith playing rugby for Trinity.

The grandfather-of-14 said: “Wakefield also had champion sprinter Berwyn Jones. He played on the wing and took us to cup finals. He was a success.

“Tommie Smith is a big, powerful man. I think he might have made a good Rugby League player.”

l To see the Youtube clip log onto www. wakefieldexpress.co.uk