South Carolina: Joe Frazier
Olympics: Tokyo 1964
With the number of accomplishments to his credit, it can be fairly easy to forget that Joe Frazier won a gold medal. The odds were certainly stacked against Frazier ever getting a gold medal but one of the hallmarks of an Olympic athlete is overcoming obstacles that seem insurmountable.
When he was a child, Frazier suffered an accident on his farm that badly injured his left arm. His family couldn’t afford a doctor so they did their best to help his arm heal, even though he could never fully straighten it again. His amateur career before the Olympics saw Frazier win the Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship in 1962, 1963, and 1964. When Frazier competed in the Olympic trials, he came up against rival Buster Mathis. Since Mathis already held victories over Frazier, this bout was a little personal. However, Frazier wound up losing a judge’s decision, seemingly ending his Olympic dream. His coaches convinced him to head to Tokyo in case anyone was injured as an alternate. Sure enough, it was Mathis who was injured and Frazier took his spot. Frazier made it to the semi-final when his dream was almost derailed again when he seriously injured his thumb. After winning the semi-final bout, Frazier didn’t tell anyone his thumb was hurt and fought through severe pain in the final bout. He triumphed by decision, taking home a gold medal after not even qualifying for the event.
After returning home, Frazier turned pro and had a legendary rivalry with Muhammad Ali. Even long after their careers had ended, both men took turns lobbing insults at each other. There were occasions when they tried to reconcile, but it never seemed to hold. As a professional, Frazier only ever lost to Ali and George Foreman. He remains one of the most successful boxers the United States has ever seen.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Garnett, basketball in Sydney 2000