US 400m great and rights activist Lee Evans dies at 74

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Gold medal winner: Lee Evans (centre) crosses the finish line of the Men's 400m final at the 1968 Mexico Olympics

Lee Evans, the 1968 Olympic 400m champion and a founding member of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, has died at the age of 74, USA Track and Field said Wednesday.

The USATF did not give a cause of death, but the San Jose Mercury News reported that Evans suffered a stroke last week in Nigeria and had remained unconscious in hospital there.

Evans won the 400m at the Mexico Games in a stunning 43.86sec, becoming the first man to break 44 seconds in the event.

The world record -- which improved the 44.06 mark he had set at the US trials that year -- would stand for 20 years.

"I was so tired, I knew I did something I've never done before," Evans told NBC Sports for the film "1968" that documented the Mexico Games.

"I wasn't sure I won. Nobody told me I won, so they said, 'Lee, you son of a gun.' I said, 'Who won? Who won?'"

Evans, who went on to anchor the US 4x400m relay team to gold in a world record time, almost opted out of the 400m final after Tommie Smith and John Carlos were thrown out of the Games for their clenched, gloved-fist salute on the 200m medal podium

"After what Tommie and John did, there was a lot of commotion," Evans said in 2017.

"We had meetings, and yelling, but it turns out, we stuck to our guns," added Evans, who along with fellow US 400m medallists Larry James and Ron Freeman wore a black beret on the podium to show solidarity with Smith, Carlos and other civil rights organizations seeking to draw attention to racial inequality and oppression in the United States and abroad.

Evans, who was born on February 24, 1947, in Madera, California, rose to national prominence as part of San Jose State University's legendary sprinting programme after a standout career at Overfelt High School.

He won the first of his five national 400m titles in 1966.

Evans was the 1967 Pan American Games 400m champion and finished fourth in the 400 meters at the 1972 Olympic trials to earn a berth on the 4x400m relay team.

He became a professional in 1973 and ran as part of the International Track Association but was reinstated as an amateur by the IAAF (now World Athletics) in 1980.

Evans later coached and directed track and field programs for decades internationally.

Between 1975 and 1997 Evans directed the national track and field programs of Nigeria and Saudi Arabia and trained athletes in 18 other countries.

In 2002, Evans joined the coaching staff of the University of Washington, and he later served in numerous coaching and advisory positions around the world.

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