Lee Evans, an Olympic gold medalist who protested racism at the 1968 games, has died.
Evans died on Wednesday in a Nigerian hospital, reported The Mercury News. The 74-year-old was in a coma due to a stroke he suffered last week. At the time of his death, Evans’ children were trying to raise money to bring him to the United States for treatment.
He was living in Nigeria with his friend and former soccer star Segun Odegbami at the time of his death. Odegbami said Evans suffered from blood clots on his brain but doctors were unsure about the cause of the coma.
Evans was a member of the famed San Jose State Speed City track program with Tommie Smith and John Carlos. In 1968, Smith and Carlos famously did the Black Panther salute during the medal ceremony for the 200 meters race. They were eventually kicked off the team.
Evans also took a stand at the games by donning a black beret during the 400-meter award ceremony. He also joined forces with Smith and Carlos to help form the Olympic Project for Human Rights so they could continue their advocacy.
Before he donned the beret, Evans broke a couple of records that lasted for two decades.
“After capturing the NCAA 400m crown in 1968, Evans went on to win the final Olympic Trials at Echo Summit in a then-world record 44.06, and then raced into the history books at Mexico City with a stunning 43.86 to shatter his own world record,” read a news release from USA Track and Field. “That record would stand for 20 years. Evans also played a key role on the U.S. gold medal-winning 4x400m relay that set a world record of 2:56.16 that stood for more than 24 years.”
In other words, he was THAT dude.
After he graduated from college, he was head cross country and assistant track coach at San Jose State. He went on to coach runners in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and 18 other countries. Before he died, Evans was working as an assistant track coach at Odegbami’s International College and Sports Academy.
“Suddenly he’s not here,” Odegbami told The Mercury News. “All those dreams are not fulfilled. It is so painful. He’s a restless spirit and finally found peace when he settled in Africa. It is where he wanted to live, to work and where he would have wanted to die.”
Ron Davis, another San Jose runner coaching in Africa, remembered Evans’ dedication to helping youths succeed.
“I’ve seen him drive past villages and he wanted to stop and get out and coach the youth,” Davis recalled.
Funeral plans have not been announced.