By James Slater: A shockingly frail-looking and obviously very ill Muhammad Ali arrived in London yesterday, to enjoy the 2012 Olympic games and, if the ongoing rumours prove to be true, to have some role during Friday’s expected opening extravaganza.
As fans will recall, and non-boxing fans, come to that – Ali lit the Olympic cauldron to open the Atlanta games in 1996: moving countless millions with his bravery as he did so. The 1960 light-heavyweight gold medal winner struggled to get the job done 16-years ago, and today, wheelchair-bound as he is on occasion, it will surely be too much to ask of Ali to lift the torch again. Last night, the former three-time heavyweight king joined football great David Beckham on stage at The Beyond Sport Summit, and the 70-year-old looked blank facially and rake thin physically.
All Ali could manage was a single wave of his hand. And we have no idea how much sheer effort that took the great man. So it looks obvious that Ali’s role on Friday is surely going to be a limited one. Still, just the sight of the man Beckham referred to as “The biggest and best sporting icon of any time,” and someone who has “had a bigger sporting impact than anyone,” is enough to inspire millions these days.
Ali’s presence in London will likely draw even more attention to the latest games, but if “The Greatest” doesn’t light the cauldron on Friday, who will?
Will it be Sir Steve Redgrave, Daley Thompson, Kelly Holmes (the three favourites) or someone else? Is there a chance a British boxing great may be handed the huge honour – Lennox Lewis maybe? We shall soon see.