Peter Norman, a wonderful man and a wonder of an athlete, reached the finish line this week, aged 64.
He will be remembered as the middleman, the little white bloke who split two giants of American sprinting, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, in the 200m final at the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968.
He is also remembered for taking a supportive, although not overt, position in the so-called Black Power medal ceremony, in which Smith and Carlos mounted the dais in black socks. Heads bowed, each raised a black-gloved fist during the American anthem.
Smith and Carlos were thrown out of the athletes' village and became pariahs in US sporting life until at least the early 1980s, by which time the damage to their lives was irreparable.
In winning the silver medal, Norman clocked 20.06sec, still one of the oldest Australian records. Norman later said that when he began the race he was nervous he was about to run last in an Olympic final. But he put in a final spurt, edging Carlos out of second place by 0.04sec.
As Norman waited for the medal ceremony, he made it known he believed in the cause motivating the Movement For Human Rights Project that inspired the Olympic protest. Smith gave him a button he wore on his tracksuit jacket during the ceremony.
Carlos had forgotten his gloves and, at Norman's suggestion, each of the Americans wore one of Smith's gloves. The protest caused a worldwide uproar.
But Norman was protected by his team manager, Judy Patching, who, "with a smile, told me to consider myself severely reprimanded", Norman said. "Then she asked me how many tickets I wanted for the hockey."
For many years after 1968, Norman maintained contact with the men who shared the podium with him – more so with Smith, for whom he had a high regard.
I met Peter Norman in 1970. He became a friend. Consistent, good company on the rare occasions we managed to catch up; no airs and graces about him, no deceptions, always telling it as he saw it, always with good humour, always happy to have a beer and for him the glass was always half-full.
I bumped into him at the Sydney Olympics. He showed me the dreadful scar left by a golden staph infection he contracted in hospital in Melbourne when he had surgery on his achilles tendon. Half the soleus muscle was gone. All that was left, it seemed, was bone and tendon.
"It was a worry there for a while. I'm happy though. I'm still buying my shoes in pairs," he laughed.
Several weeks ago, out of the blue, I phoned him and he sounded frail. He'd just had a heart attack.
"I had felt pretty ordinary, a little upset during the night and decided to take myself down to the hospital in the morning," he told me.
"They ran some tests and the doctor said: 'You've had more than a little upset; you've had a major incident. We're going to run some more tests on you in the next six weeks or so'."
Norman checked into hospital a couple of weeks later and an angiogram operation went badly wrong, as these things can, when the wire cut off the corner of an artery valve.
He never did have much luck in hospitals. A couple of weeks later he said: "I went in for the angiogram and after that they put me back in and I ended up with triple bypass surgery. But I'm getting better. I've slowed up a bit, but I've already walked down to the supermarket to get the groceries."
Earlier this year he handed me an A4-size colour photograph of that Mexico medal ceremony protest. Smith, Carlos and Norman had all signed it. Norman, like Smith and Carlos, had signed it in gold ink.
Norman was born on June 15, 1942, in Thornbury, Melbourne, and grew up in a devout Salvation Army family.
By his own account, he grew up as a sports buff. He told in 2000 of how, during the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, he wagged school to sell pies to spectators.
He gained inspiration from watching such events as Betty Cuthbert becoming the first Australian to win an Olympic gold medal on Australian soil. His customers, however, were sold cold pies.
Despite wagging school, Norman became a high school teacher, instructing in physical education. He did an apprenticeship as a butcher, a trade he kept as a sideline.
He was already making his mark in athletics, despite being an asthmatic and a slow starter. But he was blessed with a good coach and mentor, Neville Sillitoe, as well as natural ability.
He earned a crack at the 220-yard sprint at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth. He came sixth in the semi-final. But he was back in the Commonwealth Games team to Jamaica in 1966, taking bronze in the 220 yards and running in the 4x110 yard relay team, which also came third.
That was the year he became Australian 200m champion, a title he kept in each of the five races up to 1970. Norman's time of athletic greatness thus went on past the 1968 Mexico Olympics. In 1970, he came fifth in the 200m at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.
But his luck changed in 1985, when he went for a run and hurt his achilles tendon. Dreadfully painful complications dragged on for years.
Pressures took their toll and on September 17, 2004, Norman pleaded guilty to a fourth offence of exceeding the 0.05 drink-driving limit and also to a charge of unlicensed driving. The Sunshine Magistrates Court set a $500 fine and disqualified Norman from driving for 14 months.
Luckily, Norman's story was recorded on film before he died. Salute – The Peter Norman Story, produced by his nephew Matt Norman, opens in the US in February. Matt says his uncle cried with pleasure on seeing it.
He says the website salutethemovie.com had 800,000 hits in the 24 hours after Peter died. Some mourners have made donations, which will go to the rehabilitation of New Orleans. This, Matt says, is what the champion of civil rights and black Americans would have wanted.
Norman is survived by his second wife, Jan, and their daughters, Belinda and Emma, his first wife, Ruth, and children, Gary, Sandra and Janita, and four grandchildren.