An 18 year old Cassius Clay receives his gold medal in Rome 1960 – an image overloaded with magnificently sinister backlighting and potent foreshadowing (see below).
Clay, wide eyed, smiling – a boy standing tall above men. And what men – heavy set, bulky, a little big ugly. I suspect that at least two of the three went on to become goons swatted aside by Sean Connery underneath a volcano. It’s not just youth triumphing however. The previous year had witnessed the last white man to win the heavyweight championship – the image perfectly captures this shift.
Of course, even without what we know, even without Will Smith bio-pics, this picture is about Clay’s impossible charisma. But we do know what happened next. In a week where Pop Lifer is saluting Frank Ocean’s brave, potentially career destroying declarations, it is worth doffing a cap to another remarkable stand. Within a decade this 18 year old would have converted to Islam, dodged a draft, served time.
“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong… No Viet Cong ever called me nigger”.