Rio 2016: Introducing Yorkshire’s own Muhammad Ali

Flyweight Muhammad Ali during the Olympics team announcement at the English Institute of Sport, Sheffield.
Flyweight Muhammad Ali during the Olympics team announcement at the English Institute of Sport, Sheffield.
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Carrying the name of the greatest sportsman in history into an Olympics could be quite a daunting prospect but for Keighley boxer Muhammad Ali, it’s just another title to relish.

Ali will have the eyes of the world on him as he steps into the ring at the Riocentro bidding to secure a memorable triumph in the same year his idol passed away.

Fifty-six years have passed since Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, won light heavyweight gold at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. The rest, as they say, is history.

Constant questions and comparisons to an idol of sport, not just boxing, could frustrate a prodigious 20-year-old but Yorkshire’s Ali insists the burden of expectation is a help not a hindrance.

“It’s part of what I am. I just have to live with it,” he said.

“He is one of the greatest boxers of all time, one of the greatest sportsmen and one of the greatest people to have lived. He stood for what he believed in and fought for it. If I can achieve half of what he did in the ring, I would be happy.”

Ali will lead British hopes in the bantamweight division in Rio after striking gold at the European Qualification event earlier this year.

The romantic story of him winning gold almost seems off kilter for a Games already blighted by drug revelations and Zika concerns. But it’s a dream that Ali believes can be fulfilled. “I go to bed every day and think of that,” he added. “Hopefully 50 years down the line, another Muhammad Ali will be winning a gold medal. That doesn’t sound too bad.”