Wladimir Klitschko recalls seeing Muhammad Ali at Atlanta Olympics

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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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VIDEO: Ali lights 1996 Olympic cauldron

Wladimir Klitschko, former heavyweight boxing champ, retires

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BERLIN (AP) — Former heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko announced his immediate retirement from boxing on Thursday.

The 41-year-old Klitschko dominated the heavyweight scene for a decade but lost to Britain’s Anthony Joshua in April after a technical knockout in the 11th round. He had been expected to face Joshua in a rematch in November.

In a statement released by his management on Thursday, Klitschko said: “As an amateur and a professional boxer, I have achieved everything I dreamed of, and now I want to start my second career after sports.”

He said that he had deliberately taken a few weeks to reach a decision “to make sure I had enough distance from the (first Joshua) fight at Wembley Stadium.”

Klitschko was 64-5 in a career that began in 1996 after he won the Olympic gold in Atlanta.

The Ukrainian racked up notable wins over the likes of David Haye and Ruslan Chagaev, but lost his titles to British fighter Tyson Fury in 2015 and was unable to reclaim the WBA and IBF belts against Joshua.

Klitschko followed his older brother Vitali Klitschko into boxing. Both found immediate success in the professional ring, and held all of the main heavyweight titles between them when Vitali Klitschko retired in 2013.

They never fought each other, saying that would break a promise to their mother.

The Klitschko brothers’ hard-hitting style inside the ring and relaxed, multilingual approach outside it made them famous beyond boxing. Wladimir Klitschko even made a cameo appearance in a 2007 romantic comedy movie in the brothers’ adopted home of Germany.

He also followed his older brother into politics, addressing crowds alongside his fiancee, the U.S. actress Hayden Panettiere, during anti-government protests in Ukraine in 2013. Vitali Klitschko has since become mayor of the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

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MORE: Klitschko on meeting Ali at 1996 Olympics

Who is the world’s most marketable Olympian?

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The world’s most marketable athlete is 2012 Olympic boxing champion Anthony Joshua of Great Britain, according to Britain’s SportsPro magazine.

SportsPro ranks athletes across the world according to their marketing potential over a three-year period starting this summer based on value for money, age, home market, charisma, willingness to be marketed and crossover appeal.

Joshua, 27, knocked out Wladimir Klitschko on April 29 to become the unified world heavyweight champion.

Joshua is the fifth Olympian to be named most marketable by SportsPro, following Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard in 2015, Brazilian soccer star Neymar in 2012 and 2013, Usain Bolt in 2011 and LeBron James in 2010, the first year of the rankings.

Olympians dot this year’s 50-athlete list. Joshua is followed by Neymar (No. 7), Simone Biles (No. 8) and Mikaela Shiffrin (No. 9) in the top 10.

Other notables in sports where the Olympics is the biggest prize are Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse (No. 23), swimmer Katie Ledecky (No. 29), snowboarder Chloe Kim (No. 39), Russian figure skater Yevgenia Medvedeva (No. 46) and Lindsey Vonn (No. 50).

Bolt is not on the list because he is set to retire in two months.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were left off because they reached a long-cemented commercial peak, SportsPro said.

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