Just Little Bits of History Repeating? Muhammad Ali at the Olympic Games

29 July 2016


It has been difficult to miss the build up to this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, which starts a week from today, for all of the hard-hitting headlines in the news recently. Whether it be state-sponsored drugs scandals, concerns about sanitary conditions in the Olympic Village, or the ongoing threat of the Zika virus there has been lots to read about over the last few weeks. In light of this a positive look at an Olympic Games of the past might help buck the trend and provide an opportunity to pay homage to a sporting great – Muhammad Ali.

Image © The Felix Dennis Archive. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

The 1960 Olympic Games were significant for a number of reasons, not least for being held in the ancient surroundings of Rome. Highlights included competing members of the Greek Royal Family, including the future Queen of Spain and the future King of Greece, the latter collecting a gold medal in the sailing. Spectators also witnessed a marathon won by Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila, who ran the whole race barefoot! The Soviet Union ended the Games on top of the all-important medals table, pulling in an impressive 43 gold medals, well ahead of the US in second (34 golds) and a Great Britain team in 12th position with 2 golds.

The Games in Rome were also significant for the introduction of Cassius Clay on to the international stage, winning the light heavyweight gold medal at the age of 18. Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali, would not look back as he carved out a career as a celebrated boxer and activist. He became renowned for his witty retorts to opponents and journalists alike: ‘If you even dream of beating me you'd better wake up and apologize.’ Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3, 2016. Here are some photographs of Ali during his career found in Adam Matthew’s Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975.

‘I am America. I am the part you won't recognise, but get used to me. Black, confident, cocky. My name, not yours. My religion, not yours. My goals, my own. Get used to me.’ Images © Mirrorpix Photographic Archives. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Coincidentally, Muhammad Ali, a 20-year-old from Keighley in Yorkshire (I couldn’t write a blog about the Olympics and not mention God’s Own County), will be boxing for Great Britain at the Rio Olympics in the men’s flyweight. Is this history repeating itself? Are we seeing the next great boxing champ? Only time will tell.

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About the Author

Joe Pettican

I am a Development Editor at Adam Matthew Digital, an academic digital publisher of primary source collections for the arts and humanities. Since joining the team, I have worked on a number of great projects across a variety of subjects.