After watching Cassius Clay win the Olympic heavyweight gold medal in 1960 at the Palazzo della Sport in Rome, beating Zbigniew Pietrzykowski of Poland in the final, I went home and took up boxing. Cassius, then still a teenager, went back to his white clapboard house on Grant Avenue in the black, segregated area of Louisville, Kentucky, and was refused a welcome home dinner and reception by the city council.
There is a photograph of him sitting on the front steps of his house surrounded by young black boys. Across the road 6 year old Yolande 'Lonnie' Wills asked her mom who was the man with the crisp white collared shirt and a black bow tie. 'That's the Champ ' she was told. She walked across the road and was greated fondly by 'The Louisville Lip' , and later 'The Greatest'
You may have noticed them both at the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony on Friday evening. He has Parkinsons Disease and she was assisting him. After three failed marriages he called her up and they got married, becoming his fourth wife, and she looks after his needs. They divide their time between a farm in Southern Michigan, and their winter home in the sunshine of Arizona.
Earlier in the week he had taken to the stage with David Beckham in the 'Beyond Sport Summit' in London where a presentation was made to an Afghan refugee called Matiullah Haider, who had most of his family wiped out by religious fanatics at war with each other in a Muslim nation. He has tried to inspire other refugees by introducing them to cricket.
As you may recall, 'The Champ' renounced his slave name and became Muhammed Ali. He refused to be drafted into the US Army to fight a war in South East Asia, was arrested and had his titles taken away for a time. "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me nigger". Four years later the US Supreme Court overturned the verdict. He was 'hijacked' for a time by Nation of Islam bigots in America when he converted to Islam.
He threw his gold medal into the Ohio River after being refused service at an 'all white' restaurant. He became a Sunni Muslim in 1975 and then Sufism after he married Yolande. They later adopted a son called Asaad, who is now 21.
In 1966 just prior to the 1966 World Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, I bumped into him walking into the stadium and shook his hand. BY THE WAY, TODAY 30th JULY 1966 is the 46th ANNIVERSARY of BOBBY MOORE and ENGLAND BEATING WEST GERMANY. TOMORROW NIGHT TEAM GB WOMEN WILL PLAY IN FRONT OF A RECORD CROWD AT WEMBLEY IN THEIR FIRST, AND POSSIBLLY LAST,OLYMPIC FOOTBALL TOURNAMENT.
In February, 1967 I interviewed Ali prior to a championship fight at Houston's Astrodome against Ernie Terrell, where I had earlier written a piece about 'The Eight Wonder of the World' for the English magazine World Sports, and later would cover the first ever indoor football match in the world, West Ham United vs Real Madrid. I mentioned that I was English as he rested in his corner of the practice ring and allowed me to take a photo. He then started talking and never stopped, joking about Jolly Old England, British horizontal heavyweights, and more. He didn't stop until he put his mouthpiece back in, then resumed sparring with his partner.
In 1996 at the Opening Ceremony of the Atlanta Games he lighted the cauldren and during the interval of a basketball match was presented with a copy of his 1960 gold medal.