An amateur flyweight, Ali is about as tall as the highest rope on a boxing ring (4 feet 11 inches) and weighs less than some beauty queens (about 106 pounds). But there was much greater symbolism in his underdog medal quest: the young, slinky boxer from Baghdad punching away in Athens was reflective of war-torn Iraq, fighting to overcome all odds, fighting to redefine itself.
Ali, now 25, was especially brave. Unlike the other Iraqi athletes that State Department officials had financed under the banner of sports diplomacy, Ali offered to give interviews. Other athletes declined in the fear that speaking to reporters would make them and their families targets for insurgents.
In interviews with television networks, radio stations and newspapers, Ali routinely praised the United States' invasion of Iraq.
"We want to win medals, yes, but the big thing is to represent freedom and normal life in Iraq," Ali told The Baltimore Sun from the Olympic Village. "We want to prove something. We want to prove to the world that Iraq is here, Iraq is back."
In an interview posted on the State Department's Web site, which features a picture of Ali in an amateur match, he was quoted as saying: "I didn't judge the American people while in Iraq. I waited until I came here to judge them, and the American people have been the best people out of any I have met."
Apr 13, 2006
No student visa for pro-American Iraqi boxer
An utterly infuriating story in light of the fact that the State Department were apparently all too willing to OK a visa for Yale's Talibani.