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On This Date in Sports September 5, 1960: Clay in Rome

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Cassius Clay is one of three Americans to win a Boxing Gold Medal at the Summer Olympics in Rome. The 18-year-old from Louisville scored an impressive unanimous decision in the light-heavyweight division over three-time European champion Zbigniew Pietrzytkowski from Poland. Anthony Madigan of Australia and Giulio Saraudi of Italy won the Bronze Medals. Upon returning to the USA, Clay would throw his medal into the Ohio River after being refused service. He was given a replacement medal after lighting the Olympic Cauldron in 1996. 

 Cassius Clay Jr. was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. He began learning the sport of boxing after his bicycle was stolen when he was 12 years old. Clay quickly took to boxing, winning his first amateur bout. Over the next few years, Cassius Clay compiled a record of 100-5, winning six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, and the Amateur Athletic Union championship. 

 The United States sent a formidable boxing team to the Rome Olympics in 1960. Wilbert McClure won the Light Middleweight Gold Medal, Eddie Cook Jr. won the Middleweight Gold Medal, and Cassius Clay won the Gold Medal as a Light-Heavyweight Gold Medal. Clay was clearly heading for bigger things as he dominated in Rome, serving notice of what was coming. 

Cassius Clay’s first Olympic match was against Yvon Because of Belgium. Clay dominated as the referee stopped the contest in the Round of 16. In the quarterfinals, Cassius Clay again dominated, winning a unanimous decision over Soviet Gennadi Shatkov. Clay again won a unanimous decision over Australian Anthony Madigan in the semifinals. There was little doubt of the result in the Gold Medal match, as Cassius Clay again won a unanimous decision against Zbigniew Pietrzytkowski of Poland.

 Returning home, Cassius Clay made his professional debut less than two months later, beating Tunny Hunsaker on October 29, 1960, in Louisville. Cassius Clay would quickly become one of the biggest stars in boxing and won the Heavyweight championship on February 25, 1964, in Miami by beating Sonny Liston. A day after his title win, Clay announced that he had become a Muslim and would change his name to Muhammad Ali. 

 Muhammad Ali would go on to forge one of the greatest careers in boxing, winning the heavyweight championship three times, while compiling a record of 56-5 over a 20-year career.