Spalding University Center renamed Columbia Gym

Updated: Jan. 17, 2018 at 5:17 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The building where a future heavyweight champion of the world learned to box will once again be known by the name it had.

Spalding University announced that its athletic and activities building at 824 S. Fourth Street has been renamed Columbia Gym.

In 1954, 12-year-old Cassius Clay parked his new red Schwinn bicycle outside Columbia Gym while attending a Louisville Service Club event. When it was over, he found the bike had been stolen. Young Cassius told Joe Martin, a Louisville Police Department officer, about his bike being stolen and said he was going to "whup" the person who took it. Martin, who ran a boxing club on the lower level of Columbia Gym, told Clay that he better learn to fight first.

Red bike tribute to 'The Greatest' stolen 
Red bike marks spot where Ali learned to box

It was those events at Columbia Gym that started Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, on a career that led him to a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics and three heavyweight titles.

In a statement announcing the name change, Tori Murden McClure, the Spalding president, said the board of trustees had planned in 2016 to change the name of the building from the Spalding University Center to Columbia Gym. Following the death of Ali in that same year, Spalding hung a replica of Ali's red Schwinn bicycle over the front entrance of the building. It serves as a tribute to the first encounter between Ali and Martin, who became Ali's first trainer.

"Our students are motivated daily by the history that began here with the red bike story," Spalding athletic director Roger Burkman said in a press release. "It should inspire us all to not only compete at our highest level but also to serve others at an equally high level."

With a capacity of 2,400, Columbia Gym is home court for the Spalding Golden Eagles (NCAA Division III) basketball and volleyball teams in Derek Smith Gymnasium. The building, which also has a ballroom and auditorium, houses the Spalding athletic offices and student fitness center, lounge and health clinic on the lower level where Martin's gym once was.

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