August 25th marks the 60th anniversary of the start of the XVII Olympiad held in Rome, Italy. The summer Olympics of 1960 gave us a glimpse of athletes who would have a significant impact on their respective sporting event.
Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia ran the marathon barefoot to become the first Black African Olympic Champion. He would distinguish himself in the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964. Unfortunately, Abebe Bikila was paralyzed in an automobile accident in 1969; he died in 1973.
The United States national basketball team, led by promising college athletes Walt Bellamy, Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West would win its fifth straight Olympic Gold Medal. Walt Bellamy, Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West would become NBA All-Stars; each of them would be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Cassius Clay won Boxing’s Light-Heavy Weight Gold Medal. Cassius Clay, known as Muhammad Ali, would become one of the greatest boxing champions of all time. Of course, for those of us who lived in Jersey City during the late 70’s, Ali’s “greatest bout” took place on June 29, 1979, when he faced Mayor Tommy Smith in an exhibition match at the Armory on Montgomery Street. The proceeds from that match would go to the Medical Center. Some may wonder about the outcome of that match. Honestly, that all depends on who you ask. According to Tommy Smith, the Jersey City Medical Center was the clear “winner” because it received proceeds from the gate. Well, even that statement is a bit misleading; the gate was “flat.” However, Tommy Smith did donate $10 thousand from his own funds to the hospital.
The future Constantine II of Greece won the Gold Medal for sailing. It was the first Gold Medal Greece won for sailing since the Stockholm Summer Olympics in 1912.
Wilma Rudolph, a former polio patient, won three Gold Medals in sprint events on the track. Many acclaimed her to be “The fastest woman in the world.” Wilma Rudolph, an advocate for civil rights, would become an inspiration for future Black and women athletes.
South Africa appeared in the Olympics for the last time under its “apartheid” regime. It would not be allowed to return until 1992, when “apartheid” in sporting events was being abolished.
Singapore competed for the first time under its own flag; Great Britain had granted Singapore self-government a year earlier. Tan Howe Liang won “silver” in the Weightlifting lightweight category, which was the first time – and the only time until 2008 – that an athlete from Singapore won an Olympic medal.
Many notable distinctions occurred during the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy. Many of those distinctions would have a tremendous impact on the sporting world for many years.
Albert J. Cupo
John Di Genio