Former Olympic gold medallist Lee Evans has died aged 74

·2-min read
Photo credit: Michael Steele - Getty Images
Photo credit: Michael Steele - Getty Images

Lee Evans, an American former Olympic gold medallist and 400m world record holder, has died at the age of 74.

Evans was the first person to break 44 seconds in the 400m when he did so at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, aged just 21. He was also part of the winning men’s 4x400m relay event at the same games.

USA Track and Field confirmed that Evans died on Wednesday. The Mercury News in San Jose reported in May that Evans’ children had started a fundraising campaign to bring Evans back to the US from Nigeria, where he was a coach, after he suffered a stroke.

Evans famously wore a black beret at the Mexico City Olympics in solidarity with teammates Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were sent home for performing a Black Power salute on the podium. He was a founding member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights led by Dr Harry Edwards, who said Evans’ 'legacy of contributions to sports and the struggle for social justice is indelible and enduring'.

Evans’ times of 43.86 in the 400m and 2:56.16 in the 4x400m relay stood for almost 20 years and 24 years respectively. Evans also won five US 400m titles and is a member of both the USA Track and Field and US Olympic halls of fame.

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American Olympian Michael Johnson also tweeted his condolences: 'Just heard the great Lee Evans passed away today. 1968 Olympic 400 champion. World record 43.86 stood from 1968 to 1988. He was also influential in the civil rights protest during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. #RIP #Legend'.

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Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation magazine said: 'The passing of a legend, an internationalist, and the kind of person people were just proud to know.'

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After his professional career was over, Evans coached teams in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Before he died he was an assistant track coach at a school in Lagos, Nigeria, according to the Mercury News.

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