At some point after winning the gold medal in 1960, Ali supposedly attempted to eat at a restaurant in his hometown which didn’t serve people of color. It’s stated that the Caucasian (white) waitress refused to serve Ali in spite of knowing him to be the Olympic gold medal winner. Angered by this mistreatment, Ali supposedly goes to the Second Street Bridge and threw the gold medal into the Ohio River.
Ali never mentioned the gold medal until a documentary was produced about him in 1975. In this documentary, he explains why he threw away his gold medal. In the documentary Ali states, he lost the gold medal.
The gold medal was eventually found in 2014 by Robert Bradbury, a life-long resident of Louisville, Kentucky who happened to be participating as a volunteer in an annual event known as the Annual Ohio River Sweep. In his words:
“I saw something round and fairly large – well, bigger than any coin I know of, sticking out of the mud. I went to retrieve it and I realized it was a medallion of some kind,” Bradbury said. “As a joke, I walked over to my wife Pattie and told her ‘Hey I found Ali’s gold medal that he threw off the Second Street bridge in 1960!’ We both laughed as I tried to get it clean enough to make out what the design was on the thing.“
“I finally rubbed the thing off enough so that I could see an image on the medallion, it almost looked to me like some ancient Roman God or something, then it clicked, I looked at my wife and said, ‘Oh dear Lord, the 1960 Olympics were in Rome!’ The thing totally looked Roman to me so I started to get excited. She told me to calm down because most medallions have that kind of design on them.”
Robert had the medal appraised by an Olympic Medal collector living in Indianapolis, Indiana name Wade Somerville. Using a special solution Wade determined the medal to be authentic. In his words:
“There is no doubt in my mind that this is the very gold medal Cassius Clay threw off that bridge. It is the most amazing thing I could possibly see with my own eyes!”
Upon getting this news Robert contacted the Muhammad Ali Center and turned the medal over to the curator. After validating the medal Chief Curator Sarah Lynn Jeffcoat contacted and presented Robert with a check from the Ali family for $200,000. His reward and their show of thanks to him for returning the medal. In his words:
“It is such an amazing thing to actually now be a part of this amazing human being’s story. We are linked with him for eternity, and they could not have been more thankful and appreciative. They have reached out and changed our lives forever, we are so grateful!”
There’s no mention of Ali ever responding to the medal being returned.