TSU track and field icons remember Muhammad Ali

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – A few years before Muhammad Ali became a heavyweight champion, legendary track and field coach Ed Temple said the young fighter told him he would one day hold the title.

The former Tennessee State University coach said in an interview shortly after Ali’s death on June 3 that he first met the brazen boxer at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Temple, who was the U.S. women’s track coach, said he had just finished practicing and was sitting on a bench in the Olympic Village when then-Cassius Clay sat down beside him.

TSU Olympic legends Ralph Boston and Wilma Rudolph hang out with Muhammad Ali during one of his visits to Tennessee State University. (TSU archives)

Temple said the two talked for more than 30 minutes. During their discussion, he said Clay talked about his aspirations, boasting that he would one day be “the heavyweight champion of the world,” Temple recalled.

Toward the end of their conversation, Temple said someone ran by yelling that Floyd Patterson was in the village. Patterson was the heavyweight champion at the time. Temple said when he asked Clay if he was going to see Patterson, he said “no.”

“People are going to be running to see me one day,” Temple said Clay told him.

Clay, who would later change his name to Muhammad Ali, went on to win a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics as a light heavyweight, and eventually became heavyweight champion in 1964 when he beat Sonny Liston in a sixth-round technical knockout that stunned a Miami Beach crowd. In the ring, Ali proclaimed, “I am the greatest! I am the greatest! I’m the king of the world.”

A year later, Ali fought Floyd Patterson and knocked him out in the 12th round to hold onto his title.

Despite his cockiness, Olympic gold medalist and TSU alumnus Ralph Boston said Ali was a friendly person. Boston, who won a gold medal in the long jump competition at the 1960 Olympics, said he and Ali met in New York while they were waiting to board a plane for Rome.

“He had brashness, but he was always very cordial,” Boston said.

Temple and Boston said Ali was also very fond of TSU alumna Wilma Rudolph, who in 1960 became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympics.

They said after they met Ali in Rome he stayed in contact, particularly with Rudolph, and made several stops at TSU to see them on his way to training camp in Miami.

Temple also recalled a banquet where both Ali and Rudolph had been asked to speak. During his speech, he said Ali bragged about the gold medal he won. When he sat down next to Rudolph, Temple said she leaned over and whispered in his ear: “You won one, I won three.”

Temple said the two remained close friends up until her death.

Ali was 74 when he died at a hospital near Phoenix, Arizona. A family spokesman said he was being treated for respiratory complications. Ali had battled Parkinson’s disease for 32 years.

Department of Media Relations

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