Sporting world mourns tragic death of Olympic icon Lee Evans

·Sports Editor
·5-min read
Lee Evans, pictured here at the 1968 Olympics.
American sprint champion Lee Evans has died at 74. Image: Getty

The sporting world is mourning the tragic death of Olympic sprint legend Lee Evans.

The record-setting American, who wore a black beret in a sign of protest at the 1968 Olympics, has died at the age of 74.

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USA Track and Field confirmed the tragic news on Wednesday after reports that his family had started a fundraiser with hopes of bringing him back to the US from Nigeria - where he was coaching sprinters - to receive medical care following a stroke last week.

Evans became the first man ever to crack 44 seconds in the 400 metres, winning gold at the 1968 Mexico City Games in 43.86sec.

His victory came shortly after his teammates, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, were both sent home from the Olympics for raising their fists on the podium.

In later interviews, Evans said an official warned him not do anything similar.

He took a different approach, wearing a black beret to show support for the Black Panther Party and other civil rights organisations.

Lee Evans, pictured here with Larry James and Ronald Freeman at the 1968 Olympics.
Lee Evans (centre) with Larry James (L) and Ronald Freeman (R) at the 1968 Olympics. (Photo by Bill Eppridge/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Sporting world mourns death of Lee Evans

Like Smith and Carlos, Evans was a college star on the San Jose State "Speed City" teams.

He was also a high-profile member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which called attention to racial inequality and oppression and spearheaded the protests at the 1968 games.

"His legacy of contributions to sports and the struggle for social justice is indelible and enduring," tweeted Harry Edwards, the architect of the movement.

Fellow American legend Michael Johnson tweeted: "Just heard the great Lee Evans passed away today. 

"1968 Olympic 400 champion. Word record 43.86 stood from 1968 to 1988. 

"He was also influential in the civil rights protest during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics."

Lee Evans, pictured here winning gold in the 400m at the the 1968 Olympics.
Lee Evans wins gold in the 400m at the the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. (Image: Rich Clarkson / Rich Clarkson & Associates)

After running the altitude-assisted 43.86, Evans anchored the US 4x400m team to a world record of 2 minutes 56.16 seconds. 

The 400m record stood for almost 20 years, while the relay record stood for 24.

Evans won five US titles at 400 metres and is a member of both the USATF and US Olympic Halls of Fame.

After he stopped running competitively, Evans spent a lot of time in Africa working for the United Nations, and also coaching national teams in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.

He had been coaching high school track in Lagos.

Fans and pundits flooded social media with tributes on Wednesday.

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with AAP

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