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The greatest snub of all

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Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest boxer ever to lace up a pair of gloves, took up the sport as a way of being prepared to defend himself in the future after his bicycle was stolen.

Rocky Marciano took up boxing to avoid kitchen duty when he was drafted into the United States Army during the Second World War.

Oscar De La Hoya, the closest thing to a “great white hope” in American boxing since Marciano, was introduced to the ring after taking one too many beatings on the dangerous streets of East Los Angeles. The son of poor Mexican immigrants would go on to become the “Golden Boy”.

Sugar Ray Leonard, the original golden boy dating back to the US team at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, got in the ring because he grew tired of older brother Roger teasing him about his own boxing exploits.

Johnny Tapia lived such a troubled and drug-addled life that he is said to have cheated death on four occasions, winning five world titles on the way, before dying of heart failure at the age of 45.

There have been prison spells for — among several others of prominence — Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, Bernard Hopkins, Tommy Morrison, Ike Ibeabuchi, Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Sonny Liston, probably the original bad boy of boxing.

The salutary tale here is that if you are looking for role models, upstanding citizens, blue-chip individuals, you should not be investing too much time in a boxing gym.

The majority end up in the ring for a reason and some, even if they make it big, find it difficult either to outrun their past or to shed their personality — the tiger and the jungle analogy exactly.

Ali may have been an exception, but it needs adding that his global appeal stemmed more from his stance on the Vietnam War than from floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.

So, we come to Bermuda's own Clarence Hill.

He came from the streets, got into a boxing ring and was discovered to be quite good at it, then once it was all over, he returned whence he came — the results being highly predictable.

A bit simplistic, perhaps, but that is the reality.

So, why the moral sermonising over the content of Hill's character whenever the issue arises over due recognition for his achievement in winning a bronze medal at Montreal 1976?

Hill would be the first to admit that he let himself and his supporters down by dint of his behaviours once his professional career ended in 1986. The string of misdemeanours is lengthy, with some of the offences downright embarrassing.

But boxing can be a brutal sport, so it stands to reason that brutal, socially maladjusted men may be involved — not for airs and graces, these blokes.

You don't have to like the man; you don't even have to respect him. But respect what he has done, the significance of it and the “once every 80 years” nature of it.

It is not as though we are the United States, who have won a combined 2,802 medals in the summer and winter editions of the Olympic Games. They can afford to let one or two fall through the cracks and still have enough left over to lap the field.

But we in Bermuda are in the category of Grenada, surely: our tiny Caribbean island neighbours, relatively, whose first medal at an Olympics was won by Kirani James in the 400 metres at London 2012.

His reward? Government bonds valued at $185,000 in today's money, a commemorative stamp crafted in his honour, a new stadium to be named for him and an appointment as a tourism ambassador.

What was Clarence Hill given by comparison? The freedom of Court Street.

No disrespect to the good people of North Hamilton, but that has to grate.

To use a Bob Richards-inspired play on words, Olympic medals don't grow on trees.

We have come close on a number of occasions since Montreal, but even with genuine world-class athletes the like of Flora Duffy, there are no freebies when the rest of the world has ambitions of its own.

So, no, then, to Hill being fêted in his own land, a decision afforded credibility by the troubles of his own doing.

Middle age brought a more mature individual who, albeit still bitter over his Olympic snub, appears to have belatedly learnt his lessons and now, at 65, he is officially a senior.

But it appears that many of the old misgivings about our only Olympic medal-winner were still bubbling on the surface when the idea of an Olympic Wall was put into reality.

How else to explain the ho-hum presentation which leaves the uninitiated with the impression that the Bermuda Olympic Association might have run out of black paint when it got to Clarence Hill's name, for there is nothing to distinguish that he has gone where no man, woman or team has gone before — or since.

Who did the consultation on this? Surely some wise spark could have said, “Shouldn't we be doing something special for Clarence Hill? If not a statue or bust in the vicinity of the columns, at least additional engraving to specify that he won a medal?”

The easy way was taken. We do not know why, and are left to surmise that Hill is too much of an inconvenient truth.

The impression is, then, that if there was a way to airbrush Hill out of our Olympic history — sort of like how the three swimmers from the 1948 Games in London were absented from the Wall altogether — it would be pursued.

It has been 20 years since the worst of Hill's criminal transgressions and still he must pay. Convicted murderers have it far easier.

No time off for good behaviour for the man who set the pulses racing and elicited the chant “PYC, PYC, PYC” during a glorious amateur career and for his final two bouts as a pro.

Consigned to purgatory until or unless Bermuda wins another medal. Then, surely, we must get it right and, out of equitable necessity, elevate the gangling southpaw into the stratosphere that has been crudely denied him for five decades.

Spot the difference: the attempt to distinguish 1976 bronze medal-winner Clarence Hill from fellow Olympians has been exposed as risible (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Remember when: it bears recalling that Clarence Hill was deemed worthy of entering the stadium as Bermuda's flagbearer at the 1975 Pan Am Games in Mexico City
Blink and you miss it: Clarence Hill peers at the Olympic Wall at the National Sports Centre (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published October 21, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated October 21, 2016 at 10:21 am)

The greatest snub of all

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