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Harry Carpenter
"His whole life is one extraordinary story."
 real 14k

banner Saturday, 25 November, 2000, 11:29 GMT
Know what I mean Ali
Harry Carpenter
Harry Carpenter's Sports Personality career stretched over three decades
Harry Carpenter tells BBC Sport Online about the two greatest characters to appear on Sports Personality of the Year.

It was Harry Carpenter who stood before an audience of sporting stars and introduced the greatest of them all.

Carpenter's long association with the sport of boxing and one fighter in particular made him the ideal man to pay tribute to the BBC's Sports Personality of the Century.

He is not only the most remarkable sports personality I have ever met - he is the most remarkable man I have ever met.
  Carpenter on Muhammad Ali

He had seen Muhammad Ali's rise to unparalleled sporting status and the chance to pay tribute on behalf of the British public was one he still savours.

"It was a wonderfuly poignant moment," reflected Carpenter.

"I was very flattered and pleased that I was asked to do the tribute to him.

"It was such a shame to see the old boy tottering about, but we had a chat afterwards and he is still very, very sharp - he remembers all those old days."

It is not only Ali's exploits in the ring that have earned him such universal acclaim according to Carpenter.

To him Ali is the greatest.

Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali

"Without any question. He is not only the most remarkable sports personality I have ever met - he is the most remarkable man I have ever met.

"I had 20 years with him and I saw at first hand the brilliance of him.

"The fact was he wasn't just a superb boxer, he was a superb showman. He was also in many ways quite a successful diplomat.

"His whole life is one extraordinary story. The sort of thing that if you'd written as a work of fiction people would have turned round and said you are writing absolute nonsense."

Best moments

Ali has a long association with Sports Personality - he won the overseas award a record three times, in 1973, 1974 and 1978 - and the interviews that followed have provided some of the programs best moments.

Carpenter was usually the interviewer. One year he had to fly over to the USA to present the trophy to Ali on the set of a film he was appearing in in Mississippi.

"The BBC said - you leave this morning, catch Concorde, fly to New York, fly to New Orleans and from New Orleans there'll be a small plane to take you up river.

"You'll be there this evening - tomorrow you present the award to Ali and fly home with the video.

Red Rum
Red Rum: a magic moment

"And it was done - I went out and back in 48 hours."

There is one other sporting star that stands out for Carpenter - Red Rum.

"I remember that vividly," he said.

"The programme was done from a theatre in the West End. He had to be taken to the stage lift and brought up on to the stage itself.

"This horse was remarkable - as calm as could be, didn't panic, did everything right.

"His jockey was on the screen and whispered a few words and Red Rum's ears pricked up.

"It was a magic moment - he recognised his old jockey's voice."

Carpenter will be there again this year, only this time he will be part of the audience. It is a role he is happy to slip into, well almost happy.

I would have loved to have been in Sydney - they were the best Olympics I have ever seen.
  Carpenter on Sydney

"Heaven knows what they will do this year because you could quite happily fill the programme just with the Olympic Games.

"They were absolutely marvellous. I have been retired for six years and that was the first time I sat at home and thought 'I'd like to be there.'

"I would have loved to have been in Sydney - they were the best Olympics I have ever seen.

"If Steve Redgrave does not win there'd better be a national inquiry."

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