Before he became “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali became an Olympic champion.
Ali, who died Friday at age 74, was 18 years old when he earned a light heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Already a prodigy, Sports Illustrated tapped Ali to be the only American to win boxing gold at those Games.
“Teenage Cassius Clay, who has been called another [Floyd] Patterson, was the only American to score a knockout in the Olympic trials,” the magazine wrote.
Ali proved the publication prophetic, though two other American fighters also took gold in Rome.
“The most popular U.S. win was that of lighthearted Light Heavyweight Cassius Marcellus Clay,” SI wrote afterward. “It took two rounds for Clay to solve the southpaw attack of Poland’s Zbigniew Pietrzykowski. But in the third he established instant command and toyed with the defenseless Pole. At 18, Clay was the best of our boxers in Rome, but he never caught a really hard punch. Could he take it if hurt? ‘Man,’ says Clay. ‘I don’t want ever to get hurt.'”
It would be another three-plus years until Ali beat Sonny Liston and changed his name from Cassius Clay.
Ali reportedly threw his gold medal in a river after the Rome Games (this has been disputed) but was given a replacement at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where he famously lit the cauldron.