As a 12-year old, little Cassius Marcellus Clay was furious after a thief had taken his bicycle. He encountered the police officer, Joe Martin, to whom the young Clay expressed his anger and his desire to ‘whup’ the thief. Joe Martin had seen it before, he directed the young boy’s anger by suggesting him to take up boxing instead.
A legendary story got a great opening.
Six years later, after having won several national titles and displayed immense potential, it was time for the 18-year old Clay to step up. Timely intervention from Clay’s coach Joe Martin, a Louisville policeman convinced the talented teenager to delay turning professional. After all, an Olympic medal could do no harm in one’s career if not be a springboard for future glories.
Clay, known for non-stop chattering was aptly nicknamed Louisville Lip and he didn’t let his mouth come in the way of his purpose at the 1960 Rome Olympics. He overcame Jan Becau, a Belgian in the second round and outscored the 1956 middleweight champion Gennady Schatkov (5-0) in the quarterfinals.
The semi-finals clash against Tony Madigan went down the wire and the 18-year old narrowly escaped defeat. His opponent in the finals was Zbigniew Pietrzykowski, Poland’s three-time European winner.
The finals in the light heavyweight category was a closely fought one. The Polish matched Clay’s meticulous footwork and quick hands – the bout went to the last round and the underdog Cassius Clay won the decision of all the five judges giving him an edge of two points (59-57) at the final counting.
Olympics was a mere stopover as later that year, the newly crowned Olympic light heavyweight champion tasted his first professional fight. From Tunney Hunsaker, his first opponent after turning professional, he climbed up the ladder and four years later in 1964, the world was looking at the youngest heavyweight champion. Clay was 22 years when he had knocked out Charles ‘Sonny’ Liston in the seventh round, to win the highest and most popular title available in boxing.
Cassius Clay went on to become Muhammad Ali – one of the greatest sporting icons, the world has witnessed.
Cassius Marcellus Clay might be a forgotten name in the annals of Olympics as he went on to achieve much more in his professional boxing career. However, the Olympics at Rome is a great starting point if one has to witness the blossoming of a great sporting dream.