curious ali web.mp3
10:27PM Feb 28, 2019
Jonese Franklin (announcer)
Archival fight sound
1996 Olympics sound
olympic gold medal
From Louisville public media.
Support for Curious Louisville comes from Lakshmi Farms, which believes in building community and expanding minds through progressive ideas, education and growing soil, right here in Anchorage, Kentucky.
In 1960, an 18-year-old Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, came home from the Summer Olympics with a gold medal. But then the metal disappeared... and people have been talking about it ever since. Curious Louisville listener Ray Watkins asked us to look into one theory that Ali tossed the medal into the Ohio River. Here's WFPL's Ashlie Stevens:
Ray Watkins has pretty much always been a Muhammad Ali fan.
There's kind of a bit of a family tie with Mohammed Ali, who was also known as Cassius Clay in his younger years. My mother went to school with him at Central High School. She was two years behind him and she would regale us with stories about how he would just run through the hallways punching people, punching lockers, running. And he bragged about being the next heavyweight champion of the world everybody laughed at him. They're not laughing now!
And there's the bell ending the fight. The judges' votes will be tallied and the winner will receive amateur boxing's highest award - the Olympic gold medal. The decision goes to Cassius Clay of the United States.
I'm a big fan of urban legends and one of the many that I've heard about is when Muhammad - or Cassius Clay - after he came home from the Olympics be tossed his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River, from the Second Street bridge.
The story is pretty well known. When Ali received a replacement medal at the 1996 Olympics, it was mentioned by commentators.
There is an apocryphal story that says that Ali, after returning from Rome as a teenager, having brought his country and himself glory, was turned away from restaurants because of segregation, faced racial slurs, that's not apocryphal. That undoubtedly happened. The story goes that in disgust, he took off his medal and threw it into the Ohio River. That is not true.
I was told that it's not an urban legend - that it actually happened. And I would just like to know if it is, in fact, true. WFPL's Kyeland Jackson began searching for the answer
It was a rumor I think I'd heard a bit about before, and was kind of one of those urban myths that circulates around a lot of Louisville, a lot of the local area, especially with it being so huge. And I'd remembered that at a conference that I had listened to a speaker talk about his biography on Ali. His name was Jonathan Eig.
And I'm the author of the Ali biography, "Ali: A Life."
It was really in-depth, had like hundreds of interviews...
Spent about four years on the book, interviewed hundreds of people...
His response was that it's essentially, that he didn't throw the metal into the river that the story came up essentially as a myth written in Ali's first biography, which had a ghost writer behind it, and that the ghost writer kind of spun up the story, Ali didn't even know about it at first, and then just kind of came to accept it over time.
I think it is unlikely to have occurred. I don't think - it's very difficult to prove a negative. It's difficult to prove that he didn't throw it in there but I talked to Ali's brother who said he remembered very clearly when Ali lost the metal and started freaking out looking for it, and he said there's no way that Ali threw it in the river, that he would never have done, that Ali loved that metal more than anything. He slept with it around his neck for weeks after the Olympics.
And Eig said it was even possible that Muhammad Ali gave the medal to a girl as a token of affection. He was known for giving away awards.
He even had one case of giving away, I think it was like a pair of Golden Gloves, he had given to a girl and his mom like told him to go and get it back. So I'd gone to Robert Lipsyte, he was a former New York Times sports reporter and was actually reporting on Ali the during like his first fight - at least according to him - with Sonny Liston, and had been at the first fight recording, or reporting, for it.
There's a general feeling has been - I ascribe to that as well - is that somebody in his entourage took the medal and may have taken some championship belts us as well, and sold them to collectors or hawked them.
Kyeland and Ray, our Curious Level question asker, then made their way to the Muhammad Ali Center and talked with Jeanie Kahnke, the Senior Director of Public Relations. It turns out Ray was just another in a long line of Ali fans who've asked a question about the medal.
I have received that question over the years, dozens and dozens of times from Louisvillians like Ray wanting to know... from news people wanting to know... writers wanting to know... Muhammad Ali fans wanting to know... Yeah, I think it is one of the biggest unanswered definitive questions of the sports world.
It's one of those that she said could have even been purposeful. That he could have done this to just kind of spin up a huge myth, huge legend about them that follows his own just stardom. And it's one of those that she said we may never know the true answer to.
Kyeland asked Ray how he felt knowing that Muhammad Ali was probably the only person who actually knows what happened to that metal.
I think that if he did lose it, I mean, he may have been pained about it, but probably not for long, As far as maybe giving it to someone, there's someone in this city holding onto a very valuable piece of history, but I'm still, I'm still content with either knowing or never knowing.
And Ray said the not-knowing only adds to the legend that is Muhammad Ali. This Curious Louisville question came from Ray Watkins. Reporting was done by Kyeland Jackson, and it was produced by me, Ashlie Stevens.