Sunday, September 5, 2010

September 5, 1960: Gold in Rome

ROME - A white Louisville policeman named Joe Martin one day saw a young black boy, 12 years old, fuming. Someone had stolen the boy's bicycle. Martin, a boxing coach in his spare time, suggested the boy learn the craft of boxing to better be able to defend himself against bullies.

The 12-year-old boy was Cassius Clay, and he took to the boxing tutoring immediately. Unbeknownst to Martin, Clay was also training with black trainer Fred Stoner. Clay was making $4 a week appearing on Martin's TV show, "Tomorrow's Champions," while also using Stoner's experience to become more prolific fighter.

Clay's boxing success was immediate. He won six Kentucky Golden Glove titles and two national titles. As an 18-year-old, he took a 96-4 amateur record into the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Fighting as a light heavyweight, Clay won his first fight by knockout, then won two straight unanimous decisions to make it to the gold medal match. There, on September 5, he faced Zbigniew Pietrzykowski of Poland, the three-time European champion. Pietrzykowski was no match for Clay, either, as the young man from Louisville won another unanimous decision for the gold medal.

There's a possibly apocraphal story about Clay's return to Louisville after his gold medal. Despite the praises he got for winning the gold medal, Clay said he was refused service at a whites-only restaurant and got into a fight with a white gang. Frustrated that his life hadn't changed despite his Olympic fame, he allegedly threw his gold medal into the Ohio River.

The veracity of the story is in doubt, but it gives a good idea of what famous black athletes still faced in 1960s America. Clay started to remedy the problem for himself a bit later, as seven weeks after the Olympics, he fought his first professional fight. By 1964, he had compiled a professional record of 19-0. Then, he beat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship, changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and eventually became perhaps the single most famous athlete on earth.

All because somebody stole his bicycle.

September 5, 1918: CHICAGO - The first game of the 1918 World Series was notable for how early it was. Congress mandated that baseball end its season early because of World War I, so the Red Sox and the Cubs squared off a month earlier than normal. To add to the patriotic feeling of the day, the Star Spangled Banner was played during the seventh inning stretch of game 1. It marked the first time the song was played at a sporting event. Babe Ruth was the winnig pitcher for the Red Sox in game 1, beating Hippo Vaughn 1-0. He would also win game 4, helping the Red Sox to the title, their last for 86 years.

No comments:

Post a Comment