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On This Date in Sports October 26, 1968: Golden George Waves Flag

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George Foreman captures the Gold Medal in the Heavyweight Division at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics defeating Ionas Cepulis from the Soviet Union. Following his victory, Foreman going against the tide of protests of the United States celebrates by waving and kissing a small American Flag. At the time, even waving the flag had become controversial, as deep tensions had grown in a year of black power salutes.

George Foreman was born on January 10, 1949, in Houston, Texas. He was a self-proclaimed troubled youth, who dropped out of school and joined the job corps at the age of 15. There, he was taught how to box by one of his supervisors in California. Previously a football player, Foreman showed great promise right away as a boxer and became one of the top young amateurs and qualified for the Olympics in the heavyweight division.

George Foreman’s quest for the gold medal began with a 4-1 decision over Lucjan Trela of Poland; it would be the only one of his fights that went the full three rounds at the Mexico City games. In the quarterfinals, Foreman dominated Ion Alexe of Romania winning on a TKO after the referee stopped the fight. In the semifinals, George Foreman knocked out Giorgio Bambini in the second round, to advance to the Gold Medal match against Ionas Cepulis. Once again, Foreman dominated opening a cut on the Russian’s face. After a standing eight-count in the second round, the fight was stopped with George Foreman being declared the winner.

George Foreman’s win had come a week after John Carlos and Tommie Smith caused a stir with their raised fist. The protest had been after a proposed boycott of black athletes was called off amidst a year of turmoil that saw Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy assassinated two months apart. With race riots, draft cards burning and protests of the Vietnam protests, patriotism in the United States was at an all-time low. The grateful Foreman who had been raised in poverty and on the wrong track had now achieved the ultimate success in amateur boxing with an Olympic Gold Medal. Grateful for the chance to turn his life around, George Foreman chose to express his love and affection for the United States. Some criticized the move as selling out the black community, but Foreman later explained that he had been happy just to have the opportunity to make something of his life. The USOC, viewed George Foreman’s actions as a welcome relief as he was invited to the White House by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a fellow Texan a few days later.

Overall, the United States won seven boxing medals in Mexico City, with Foreman and Ronnie Harris in the Lightweight Division being the only gold medalists.