By FRANK LITSKY
Published: March 17, 2010
Wayne Collett, a runner who won a silver medal for the United States
in the 1972 Munich Olympics and who was then judged to have acted so
disrespectfully during the medal ceremony that the International
Olympic Committee barred him as a competitor for life, died
Wednesday. He was 60 and lived in Los Angeles.
His death, at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles, was caused
by cancer, said Marc Dellims, the sports information director for
U.C.L.A., where Collett had been a track and field star.
In 1972, Collett and his U.C.L.A. teammate John Smith were favored in
the Olympic 400-meter dash. They advanced to the final along with
Vince Matthews, another American. Matthews won the gold medal in
44.66 seconds, Collett finished second in 44.80 and Smith was injured
early in the race and did not finish.
In the previous Olympics, in 1968 in Mexico City, the runners Tommie
Smith and John Carlos, both African-Americans, had staged a
demonstration during a medal ceremony to protest treatment of blacks
in the United States. Olympic officials feared a repetition in Munich.
There, as "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played, Matthews and
Collett, also African-Americans, did not face the flag. They stood
casually, hands on hips, their jackets unzipped. They chatted and
fidgeted. When the anthem ended and they climbed off the stand, the
crowd booed. Matthews twirled his medal and Collett gave a black power salute.
The I.O.C. called it a "disgusting display" and barred them.
Collett defended his actions many times. "I couldn't stand there and
sing the words because I don't believe they're true," he once said,
adding, "I believe we have the potential to have a beautiful country,
but I don't think we do."
In 2002, he told The Los Angeles Times: "I love America. I just don't
think it's lived up to its promise. I'm not anti-American at all. To
suggest otherwise is to not understand the struggles of blacks in
America at the time."
With Matthews and Collett barred and Smith injured, the United States
was short-handed and withdrew from the 4x400-meter relay, in which it
would have been a strong favorite.
After returning from Munich, Jim Bush, Collett's coach at U.C.L.A.,
defended him, telling Track & Field News, "I was disappointed in him
and told him that to his face, but I love him just as much as before
the Olympics." He called Collett "the greatest athlete I ever coached."
At the 1972 United States Olympic trials, Collett ran the fastest 400
time at sea level to that point.
At U.C.L.A., at 6 feet 2 inches and 180 pounds, he ran close to a
world-record time in the 400-meter and 440-yard dashes and the
440-yard hurdles. He competed for U.C.L.A. from 1968-71, winning
Pac-8 titles in the 440-yard intermediate hurdles and the 440-yard
dash. He anchored three consecutive N.C.A.A. championship relay teams.
He was born on Oct. 20, 1949, in Los Angeles, where he took up track
in high school.
At U.C.L.A., he earned a bachelor's degree in political science in
1971, an M.B.A. in 1973 and a law degree in 1977. He worked in a law
practice and real estate and mortgage businesses. In 1992, he was
elected to the U.C.L.A. Athletics Hall of Fame.
His survivors include his wife, Emily; his sons Aaron and Wayne II;
and his mother, Ruth.