- 05 Sep 1960
- Rome 1960
Boxer Quartey becomes first black African medalist
Before 1960, no black African had ever won an Olympic medal. It was a curious record and one that was bound to be broken, but the questions were multiple – who would get the honour of being the first, when would it happen, and in which event would the barrier be breached.
The answer came in the shape of Ike Quartey, a Ghanaian boxer, who was competing in the light-welterweight division. He had grown up in a huge family - his father had 27 children with five different wives - but had quickly established himself as one of the nation's leading boxers.
His timing was good as an athlete, but perfect as an Olympian. Ghana had not competed in the Games until 1956, when the country sent seven competitors, all of them in the track and field events. Four years later, another seven Ghanaians were pitched into track and field, but this time they were joined on the plane to Rome by six boxers, including Quartey.
His first two fights proved comfortable, with unanimous points victories over Morocco's Mohamed Boubekeur and Khalid Al-Karkhi of Iraq. He then faced a much stiffer test in the form of South Korean Kim Deuk-Bong.
Kim was a tougher, more experienced fighter who had knocked out one opponent and stopped another. He and Quartey traded blows and fought out an evenly matched three-round contest. Two of the judges found in Kim's favour, but the majority went for Quartey, allowing the Ghanaian to progress by the most slender of margins.
He should have fought Marian Kasprzyk in the semi-final, but the Pole withdrew, clearing Quartey's path to the gold-medal bout. There he met his match in the shape of the Czech boxer Bohumil Němeček. Quartey put up strong resistance, and landed some notable counter-punches, but his opponent prevailed on a unanimous points decision.
For Quartey, silver was still a huge achievement, as he became the Olympics' first black African medallist. Five days later, Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila became the first black African Olympic champion.
Quartey did not appear again on the Olympic stage, but his half-brother, also called Ike Quartey, fought in the 1988 Games and went on to have a notable professional career.