EXCLUSIVE: Malcolm Gladwell is hosting a podcast series that tells the story of the San Jose State track and field program of the 1960s that launched the careers of several of the fastest sprinters of the day.
The author and host of Revisionist History will lead Legacy of Speed, which tells the stories of Tommie Smith, Lee Evans, and John Carlos, who are remembered as much for their protests at the 1968 Summer Olympics as they are for their breathtaking speed.
Gladwell, a competitive runner himself, explores the ways in which this pivotal moment in sports history has paved the way for the modern-day activism of contemporary sports stars.
The podcast begins with Bud Winter, coach of the second-tier state college track and field program at San Jose State, who built what came to be known as Speed City. Taking what he learned from working with fighter pilots in World War II, Winter taught his sprinters breathing and visualization techniques that were unheard of at the time for athletes. He also notably focused on recruiting Black athletes to a mostly white school where they were introduced to budding activist Dr. Harry Edwards, author of The Revolt of the Black Athlete, who gave them the confidence to be heard.
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It will feature conversations with Olympic athletes, sports journalists, performance coaches and documentarians, as well as Tommie Smith and the friends and families of those involved.
The six-part series is produced by Gladwell’s Pushkin Industries and running brand Tracksmith and presented by sports brand Puma. It will launch on June 14.
“I’ve run competitively since I was young, so a story like this really resonates with me as both an athlete and journalist,” said Gladwell. “I remember seeing the photo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing on the Olympic platform with their fists in the air and understanding that it was an act of transgression. That moment is important. It paved the way for how we think about the relationship between sports and social protest today.”
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