October 26th, 1968 – Mexico City, Mexico. A young, raw and incredibly strong and powerful teenage heavyweight from Texas named George Foreman began a truly incredible and inspirational journey in the sport of boxing. Foreman, who had his first amateur boxing match in 1966, made astonishing progress and, just two years and a documented 24 fights later, he was fighting for and winning an Olympic gold medal.
Born in January of 1949 and introduced to boxing by his first coach, Charles “Doc” Broadus, George, after a bumpy start, won the 1967 California Golden Gloves. Soon sparring the fearsome Sonny Liston – the former world champion being the young Foreman’s first real idol/hero (with the exception of President Lyndon Johnson; who created the Job Corps program that opened up a whole new life of opportunity for the former street mugger and tearaway) – the 18 year old was channelling his youthful anger into boxing.
Though he had limited technique, the young Foreman possessed great physical strength, thudding punching power and a willingness to learn. Soon, surprising even himself, George was representing his country at the 1968 Olympic games – something that didn’t seem possible back when he was thrice losing to his amateur nemesis Clay Hodges.
Wins over Lucjan Trela of Poland, Ione Alexe of Romania and Giorgio Bambini of Italy (George telephoning his beloved mother after each win, informing her how he had taken another step closer to a gold medal after each victory) earned Foreman a place in the heavyweight final. His opponent was Russia’s Ionas Chepulis. The Cold War still raging, this battle proved to be no contest. Way too aggressive, powerful and determined for the 29 year old, Foreman stopped his final amateur foe in the second-round.
Then, the whole world watching, George took out a tiny American flag and waved it proudly. This was the the planet’s introduction to a man who would go on to capture the hearts of millions of people; not all of them boxing fans. This week, Foreman made a return trip to Mexico City, to the place where he forever changed his life. With hard work, Foreman showed what can be achieved. Of course, the Olympic triumph was just the beginning; Foreman going on to achieve oh, so much.
Half a decade on from what Foreman still lists as his finest, proudest moment as an athlete, the two-time heavyweight champion of the world is as popular as ever. George says he was unable to even dream before he found boxing (or boxing found him) and as a result of his odds-defying achievements Foreman fans everywhere can also dream of making it big. A genuine inspiration, “Big” George Foreman is one of a kind.
“Nothing comes close to the Olympic medal,” George said to this writer via a quick message. “Unbelievable to this day; an impossible dream!”