The story of Muhammad Ali throwing away his only Olympic Gold Medal into a river across his hometown in Louisville, Kentucky. However it’s is seldom talked about how the se medal eventually found his way back to Ali.
The Ali that received the Gold all the way back in Rome, was a far cry from the Ali we all know today. Yes, his boxing abilities were already well formed but the personality that we know him for was still to completely blossom, essentially he was still Cassius Clay. A very introspective incident regarding the medal certainly helped shape it in a major way.
Winning the light heavyweight gold by beating polish Boxer, Zbigniew Pietrzykowski at the age of 19, Ali was the center of attention at the Olympic Village, walking around with his medal on him at all times. Fellow gold medalist that year, Wilma Rudolf said of him, “He slept with it. He went to the cafeteria with it. He never took it off. No one else cherished it the way he did. His peers loved him. Everybody wanted to see him. Everybody wanted to be near him. Everybody wanted to talk to him. And he talked all the time.”
Muhammad Ali’s rude awakening on returning home from Rome
You can understand how it may have felt for Ali to be adored by these sportspeople from around the world, only to return home and be treated as if you were less than human. This is exactly what happened when Ali, returned home and was yet again reminded of the harsh reality of the segregated South.
Ali, who had just captured the biggest sporting title in the world tried to dine at a restaurant in Kentucky, however, its White owners refused to serve him. Enraged, Ali left the restaurant, at which point, allegedly he and his friend had to fight off a motorcycle gang member who tried to steal the medal.
The irony was clear on Ali, not only had this accomplishment done little in convincing his oppressors of his status as an equal human, but also added an additional target on his back in the community. It was here, standing at the Second Street Bridge that Ali flung his medal into the Ohio River and in earnest began his journey towards becoming Ali.
Ali would go on to become a 3 time heavyweight champion of the world while championing equality and the idea that the color of one’s skin is no barrier to the abilities of a man. Years later when the Olympics returned to the USA in 1996, Ali was the one to light the eternal flame of the Olympics.
Here, during the men’s final basketball game between the USA and Yugoslavia Ali was awarded a special gold medal during halftime. A now trembling and old Ali, graciously accepted the award and smiled as the world was a better place now than the last time he held that very same gold.\