SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR, 1974
SI RECOGNIZED THE CHAMP AFTER HE DEFEATED JOE FRAZIER AND GEORGE FOREMAN IN THE SAME YEAR, REGAINING THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP ALI HAD BEEN STRIPPED OF SEVEN YEARS EARLIER
Just as photographs of Ali (often in the pages of this magazine) once revealed the power of sport—most notably, his taunting a flattened Sonny Liston after a first-round knockout in 1965—the image of Ali since he left the ring in '81 has been as an advocate of peace. A 50-minute meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1990 secured the freedom of 14 American hostages being held in Iraq; just last year, though slowed by Parkinson's disease, he called for Iran to release two U.S. hikers detained on spy charges. Less visibly, he has delivered food and medical supplies to children in Ivory Coast, Mexico and Morocco, and advocated in Michigan for laws protecting children from abuse. Ali (left, in Atlanta, 1996) served as a United Nations Messenger of Peace from 1998 through 2008 and has earned plaudits across the globe, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Amnesty International's Lifetime Achievement Award. Such universal adulation is a far cry from the derision (not to mention the banishment from boxing) that Ali endured after his refusal to join the Army during the Vietnam War. Ali has become—as President Jimmy Carter once dubbed him—"Mr. International Friendship" and lived up to another nickname he earned while winning fights and fans the world over: People's Champion.
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR, 1954
BANNISTER WAS NAMED SI'S INAUGURAL SPORTSMAN FOR BECOMING THE FIRST RUNNER TO BREAK THE FOUR-MINUTE BARRIER IN THE MILE, WHICH HE ACCOMPLISHED WHILE STUDYING MEDICINE AT OXFORD
Speaking to SI in 2011 about the Lifetime Achievement Award he had received from the American Academy of Neurology six years earlier, Bannister compared it with his athletic feats and was unequivocal in his assessment. "This is more important," he said, "because it's about my life as a whole and medicine." Indeed, Bannister (shown with the Olympic torch in '12) has built a postracing life worthy of the same acclaim he received for his famous run on Oxford's Iffley Road track. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975 for his service to medicine, which has included heading up the British Sports Council, as well as diagnosing the neurological disorder known as progressive autonomic failure—in which the central nervous system shuts down—thus extending the life expectancy of sufferers from three years to six. In '08, Sir Roger helped create a sports-medicine discipline in British medical schools; at 83, he is revising his textbook on autonomic failure first published three decades ago. "Medicine tends to be incremental," says AAN president Bruce Sigsbee. "Key individuals break out of the old framework of how we understood it and look at it in new ways. [Bannister] certainly has one of those minds."
Billie Jean King
SPORTSWOMAN OF THE YEAR, 1972