Wladimir Klitschko, the former world heavyweight boxing champion who retired Thursday, smiled when asked to recall his 1996 Atlanta Games experience, saying “the Olympics have changed my life.”
Before going 64-5 as a pro, Klitschko won super heavyweight gold at age 20 at Ukraine’s first Summer Olympics as an independent country. Friday is the 21st anniversary of the gold-medal bout.
“I have great memories,” Klitschko said in an interview two years ago at Madison Square Garden. “Meeting Muhammad Ali. … He was visiting the [athletes’] village, gathering a lot of people. I was one of them. It was exciting to see him in person. I didn’t get a chance to shake his hand.”
Klitschko said that was the first time he was close to Ali. The two Olympic champions met several more times before Ali died June 3, 2016.
Klitschko’s second memory of the Atlanta Games was of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing on July 27.
“One of the memories is the bombing of the disco, where my friends went to, and I was there before,” Klitschko said. “But I left, because I have to be in the schedule and sleep. When I heard the next morning, which was right on the other side of the campus where we were staying, it was really sad. Thankfully, nobody from my team got injured, but they were there.”
Klitschko auctioned his gold medal in 2012 for $1 million, all of which went to his and older brother Vitali Klitschko‘s charity. In a gracious gesture, the buyer reportedly immediately returned the medal back to the Klitschko family after the sale.
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