Lee Evans, the record-setting sprinter who won two gold medals at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games, died on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. He was 74 years old. The news was confirmed by USA Track and Field, and The San Jose Mercury News reported that Evans' family recently launched a fundraiser to help bring him back to the U.S. from Nigeria, where he coached track. Last week, Evans suffered a stroke.
Before winning two gold medals in the Olympics, Evans gained national attention at San Jose State, where he won the first of his five U.S. titles in the 400 meters in 1966. After winning the NCAA 400m crown in 1986, Evans set the world record at the Olympic Trials at Echo Summit with a time of 44.06. He then broke that record again at Mexico City at 43.86, and that would stand for 20 years. He also played a key role on the U.S. gold medal-winning 4x400 relay that would set a world record of 2:56.16, and that stood for more than 24 years.
Evans was also known for being an activist. During the 1968 Olympics, Evans wore a black beret in a sign of protest. He was a leading member of the Olympic Project for Human rights, which is "an organization that called attention to racial inequality and oppression in the United States and abroad. "
In a 2004 interview with Counterpunch.org, Evans explained the organization is "a vehicle for a proposed boycott by African-American athletes of the 1968 Olympic games. We were very unhappy with the way things were run in our sport. We had ten demands. One of them simply was that we could have a black coach for the team." He also talked about wearing the black beret during the Olympics, which was a symbol of the Black Panther Party.
"I thought they were pretty brave guys but I wouldn’t do what they were doing," Evans said. "They were having a shoot out with the police almost every day. So my job [protesting at the Olympics] was easy. This is one of the things I learned from Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Everybody can play a part but everyone has to do something." Evans was elected to the USATF National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1983. He was also elected to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.