Our Century

In praise of Ali

Dave Harrison, Himley
Born 1948

Dave Harrison

"He floated into our lives and stung our senses with a flurry of words and punches. In simple rhyme, he claimed to be the prettiest and the greatest. In the boxing ring, he had a range of skills no heavyweight champion has possessed - before or since.

"He started out in life as Cassius Clay but renounced the name because of its slave-trade implications. He became Muhammed Ali, the spokesman for a new generation of Black Muslims.

"He refused to be drafted into the US army to fight in the Vietnam War and suddenly he was depicted as an anti-American activist, intent on bringing the country to its knees. But he could turn on the charm and win over his detractors as effortlessly and skilfully as he knocked over his opponents.

"I watched him cut down giants twice his size with his speed of thought and movement. He turned a brutal sport into a thing of beauty and for a decade and more was the most recognisable human on earth.

"I saw him again on a warm summer's evening in Atlanta, Georgia, at the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympic Games. He had become a shuffling, quivering wreck of a man who could barely hold the torch aloft to light the Olympic flame.

"Parkinson's Disease and the ravages of the fight game had stripped him of his magnificence but the mere sight of him evoked memories of the stirring nights and early mornings when Ali danced across our TV screens and was king.

His flame still burns bright and it lights up a sporting century in which he truly was The Greatest."