The Charming Story Behind Muhammad Ali’s Iconic Underwater Photo

The greatest shot of The Greatest.
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The Filip Schulke snap of the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali standing in a swimming pool is not only one of the most impressive photos of an athlete ever taken, it's one of the most impressive photos, period.

Sotheby's recently sold a handful of signed prints of Schulke's photos at auction and broke down a really interesting story about the photographs in a blog post that's been floating around on Twitter. He's the gist of it:

Shot in a Miami swimming pool in 1961, Ali, known as Cassius Clay at the time, was only 19-years-old. When Shculke and Ali first met, the boxer explained how a previous trainer encouraged him to train underwater, as the resistance acts like a weight.

Shculke pitched the idea of Sports Illustrated, but was rejected."When I called the editor at Sports Illustrated, he thought I was crazy for taking pictures of a boxer in a swimming pool,” wrote Schulke in his 2003 book Witness To Our Times. “So I called Life magazine, and they liked the idea. In those days, Life loved to beat out its sister publication on a story, so I went back to take pictures in the pool."

On the day of the shoot, Schulke took a bunch of shots before landing the legendary photo. "I turned around, and there he was, standing on the bottom of the pool,” he later said. “I mean, that's very hard to do, and he's in a perfect boxing pose. So I swam over real quick and I got about six pictures of him. He was holding his breath all this time and not making any movement."

Three years later, Schulke found out he was punked by Ali and his trainer. He said: “We were looking through a scrapbook, and when he came across my underwater pictures he winked at me. I realized he had taken me. I learned later he and his trainer had come up with the whole story on their own. He didn’t even know how to swim…. he fooled everybody - and it made fantastic pictures.”