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34 days to Rio: The curious case of Cassius Clay's gold medal

Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest, but it all started as an amateur at the Olympics in 1960.
2nd July, 2016
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Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali, went to the Olympic Games in 1960 and, as you would expect from a man known as ‘The Greatest’, won gold. What happened to that medal, though, is anyone’s guess.

For most amateurs – as Clay still was back in 1960 – travelling to the Olympics would have been a no-brainer, but the man who would go on to dominate pro boxing almost didn’t make the trip.

» VIEW THE OLYMPIC MEDAL TALLY HERE

Clay was terrified of flying, and after being told that travelling to the Games by boat or train wasn’t possible, he decided he just wouldn’t compete. The 18-year-old was eventually convinced to go to Rome, although he wore a parachute on his back for the entirety of the flight.

That’s not to say Clay wasn’t intent on making the most out of his Olympic experience. He made sure to meet as many different athletes as possible in the Olympic Village and dominated in the ring.

After a closely-fought semi-final victory against Australian Tony Madigan (although some feel the result should have gone the other way), Clay demolished Zbigniew Pietrzykowski in the final to take gold in the light-heavyweight division.

The result signalled the start of a now-famous career, with Clay becoming Ali and Ali becoming ‘The Greatest’ boxer of his time.

The fate of the medal itself remains a mystery.

There are many theories about what exactly happened to it, although two stand out more than any other. One is that it was thrown into the Ohio River after Clay was refused service at a restaurant, while the other speculates it was given to a teacher who told Clay “he would never amount to anything.”

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Either way, the matter was resolved when Ali was issued with a replacement during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, during the halftime break in the USA’s basketball match against Yugoslavia.

Be sure to follow The Roar as we look back on some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history – be they weird and wacky or brilliant and significant – and count down the days until the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.

The Roar’s countdown to the Rio Olympics

50 days to go: Australia’s first Olympian, Edwin Flack
49 days to go: Brazil capitulate at the 2012 Olympics
48 days to go: Blood in the water during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
47 days to go: Daniel Carroll, the man who won rugby gold with Australia and America
46 days to go: Margaret Abbott – the golfer who didn’t know she had won gold
45 days to go: Where did all the amateurs go?
44 days to go: Australia’s oarsome foursome
43 days to go: When Korea stood as one
42 Days to go: Oscar Swahn, the oldest Olympian
41 days to go: Edith Bosch – the Olympian not known for her medals
40 days to go: Jane Saville’s heartbreaking Sydney Olympics
39 days to go: Herb Elliot dominates in Rome 1960
38 days to go: Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer who might have beaten Ali
37 days to go: Betty Cuthbert steals the show in Melbourne
36 days to go: Jesse Owens’ heroic performance in Berlin
35 days to go: Eric the Eel steals Sydney’s heart
34 days to go: What happened to Cassius Clay’s gold medal?
33 days to go: Australia’s equestrian brilliance at Barcelona
32 days to go: The Olympic sports which are no longer with us
31 days to go: Debbie Flintoff-King wins on the line
30 days to go: The dominance of basketball’s Dream Team
29 days to go: Nadia Comenaci scores gymnastics’ first-ever perfect score
28 days to go: The man who stopped for a duck
27 days to go: The upset of the Sydney Olympics
26 days to go: Murray Rose’s scintilating Melbourne performance
25 days to go: Greg Louganis’ heroic comeback win
24 days to go: Fencing turns to duelling in Paris
23 days to go: Dawn Fraser’s flag-stealing shenanigans
22 days to go: The most prolific Olympic competitor
21 days to go: Duncan Armstrong’s underdog win in Seoul
20 days to go: Johnny Weissmuller: A brilliant swimmer and Hollywood actor
19 days to go: Majorie Jackson – the Lithgow Flash
18 days to go: Larisa Latynina, the most successful female Olympian
17 days to go: Dimitrios Loundras, the child who won an Olympic medal
16 days to go: Roy Jones Jr is robbed of an Olympic gold
15 days to go: Shane Gould’s superstar performance in Munich
14 days to go: The Kookaburras finally fly to the top of the world
13 days to go: Matthew Mitcham’s historic dive
12 days to go: Even Olympians are prone to the odd fail
11 days to go: Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon running in bare feet
10 days to go: Track cycling’s greatest rivalry
9 days to go: Kieran Perkins’ gold medal from lane eight
8 days to go: Sally Pearson’s awesome run in London
7 days to go: Mark Spitz’ perfect seven gold medals in ’72
6 days to go: Usain Bolt torches the field in Beijing
5 days to go: Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe help smash America’s 4x100m world record like a guitar
4 days to go: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant black power salute
3 days to go: Michael Phelps – the best to ever grace the Olympics
2 days to go: Cathy Freeman delivers with the weight of a country on her back
1 day to go: Ian Thorpe – Australia’s finest Olympian