Olympic legend Lee Evans to undergo surgery for brain tumor
Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News Dec. 22, 2011.
By Elliott Almond
Lee Evans, a 1968 Olympic champion and member of the famed “Speed City” runners from San Jose State, is scheduled to have brain surgery Thursday, this newspaper has learned.
Evans, 63, has a large tumor in the pituitary gland area of his brain, according to an email circulated to Olympians from the Mexico City Games. Former Speed City star John Carlos said Evans had suffered from an aneurysm, a weakening in a part of the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the brain.
“All of our teammates want to go out and say some prayers,” Carlos said. “There’s not too much we can do but pray.”
Evans, who lives in Nigeria, was visiting his sister in the Bay Area when the problem was discovered. “It is a blessing he is here in the United States,” Carlos added.
Evans, an Overfelt High alum, has been trying to raise capital to build a school in Liberia, the subject of a story last year in the Mercury News. The sprinter-turned-track coach said at the time he had purchased 13 acres outside of the Liberian capital of Monrovia to build a school.
Evans wanted to sell his Olympic gold medals in the 400 meters and the 1,600 relay in Mexico City to raise $250,000 for a school. He wants to dedicate the facility to his wife, Princess, a former Liberian refugee who grew up without formal education.
“I don’t need the medals,” he said. “I need money to build the school.”
Evans recently decided to start a commercial farm as a way to pay for the school. Last week, he went to Kentucky to visit ’68 Olympian Tom Lough — a modern pentathlete — who introduced him to local farmers.
Evans began working for the United Nations in Africa after resigning as track and cross-country coach at the University of South Alabama in 2008. He is semiretired but continues to coach kids in southern Nigeria.
Evans’ social consciousness matured in the late 1960s at San Jose State, where many “Speed City” sprinters were as concerned with racial discrimination as with winning medals. In Mexico City, Spartans sprinters Tommie Smith and Carlos finished first and third in the 200 meters, then entered Olympic history with their controversial protest during the medal ceremony.
Evans had planned a similar protest the next day after becoming the first person to run faster than 44 seconds in the 400 meters. He wore a black beret symbolic of the militant Black Panther Party on the podium. But he didn’t wear his black glove or black socks as Smith and Carlos did the day before.