From troubled teen to Bermuda's first and only Olympic medallist

Clarence Hill during a fight
Clarence Hill during a fight

While winning an Olympic medal is a personal goal for thousands of athletes, for 24 nations it is a dream that has only ever come true once. Tokyo2020.org looks at the glorious moment and the impact it had on the lives of the athletes who achieved it.

The background

Growing up as a troubled teenager in Newark, New Jersey, Clarence Hill diverted his energy from the streets to the ring.

Moving back to Bermuda in 1972, he started his amateur boxing career at the Pembroke Youth Centre training under Stanley Trimm.

From early on, Hill had dreamt of becoming "the heavyweight champion of Bermuda" and wanted "to win an Olympic medal".

At that time, Bermuda had never won an Olympic medal despite sending athletes to every Olympic Games since 1936 with the exception of Moscow 1980. The closest they came to medalling was at Tokyo 1964 when Bermuda finished fifth at the Dragon sailing event.

Sadly, many didn't believe in Hill's dream of winning an Olympic medal, but the youngster, who was in his early 20's when he took up boxing, knew he had the heart to do it and was going to prove them wrong.

History in the making

Fast forward four years later and at the age of 25, Hill was ready to take on the world at the Olympic Games Montreal 1976.

In Montreal, Hill had a bye in his opening round of the heavyweight competition before he knocked out Iran's Parviz Badpa in the third round of their contest.

He then outscored Belgium's Rudy Gauwe. But in the semi-final, Hill lost to Romanian Mircea Simon in a 0-5 decision, with Simon eventually becoming the silver medallist. While the loss in the semi-final denied the Bermudian boxer the opportunity to face Cuban Teofilo Stevenson, who is the only heavyweight to have won three consecutive Olympic golds, Hill would go on to win a bronze medal.

“Winning a medal at the Olympics and being on the podium was like, ‘Wow’,” Hill told the Royal Gazette in 2016. “Oh, man, I can’t even explain how it felt."

“Being young and doing something you loved, and then getting the privilege to represent your country at an Olympics — I felt on top of the world."

However, Hill still wishes he had the chance to go up against Stevenson.

“I wanted Stevenson bad,” Hill said. “People think I’m joking when I say this but I’m going to say it again — in 1976 I could have beat Stevenson. That’s how cocky I was back then."

To date, Hill is the only Bermudian to win an Olympic medal and it made the small British Overseas Territory - the least populated nation (53,500 in 1976) to ever win a medal at the Summer Olympics.

Life-changing impact

Unfortunately, upon returning to Bermuda, Hill was not recognised for representing his nation or winning a medal on the world's biggest sporting stage.

Hill did not take part in the 1974 and 1978 World Amateur Championships nor was he on the winners' lists of the Pan American Games for those years. He is also not mentioned in winners' lists of other championships or tournaments that took place at that time.

However, four years after his exploits in Montreal, Hill turned professional winning 19 fights with three loses and one draw. While he never acquired any titles, he may be best known for his unanimous points loss to Tony Tubbs in 1982. Hill actually floored Tubbs in the opening round.

After boxing, feeling lost and disillusioned, Hill was beset by dark times and he served time in jail for various offences. But he subsequently turned his life around and currently helps young boxers, both male and female, with their training.

He strongly believes that even if someone has gone through rough times, they can turn their lives around.

In 2004, the Bermuda Sports Hall of Fame started and the first 10 inductees did not see Hill's name. He was eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame the following year.

In November 2019, Hill was presented with a $10,000 cheque “in honour of his international achievements in boxing” and also had The Clarence Hill Multi-Purpose Gymnasium named after him.