In 1996 the Olympic Torch was run 1300 miles by 800 people across the country of Greece, then flown to Los Angeles. There it began a 16,199 mile journey across the United States to the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Over 12,000 Olympians and American citizens ran a flaming torch across 42 states, on bicycles, boats and trains, to the opening of the games.
4-time gold medalist Al Oerter ran the touch into Olympic Stadium to begin the opening ceremony. He handed it off to bronze medalist and reigning heavyweight boxing champ, Evander Holyfield, who passed it to swimmer Janet Evans. Winner of 3 Olympic gold medals and 4 world records, Janet had been given the honor of running the torch the final lap around the track.
Janet finished her lap and headed up the final ramp to the Olympic Flame, symbol of the games. But she did not light the flame. Instead, she lit the torch held by another Olympian, hidden in the wings, perhaps the most respected and beloved human on the planet.
He stood there a moment holding the torch, arms shaking with the palsy of his disease. Millions of us stood in front of our TVs, cheering along with the crowd in the stadium, in one of the most inspiring, poignant, and emotional moments in Olympic history. Then, in his final Olympic appearance, Ali lit the flame and the games began.
Last week, 20 years after that moment and a decades long battle with Parkinson’s disease, Muhammad Ali died at age 74. Continue reading The Greatest