The Ultimate Fighter
Perhaps the most dramatic, and anticipated moment of the Olympic Opening Ceremony is the arrival of the Olympic flame and the lighting of the Olympic flame. And perhaps the most emotional and inspiring arrival/lighting occurred in 1996 in Atlanta.
For the Atlanta Olympics, the torch arrived in the United States 84 days before the start of the games (together with the 16 days of competition it will add up to a symbolic 100 days) and traveled more than 16,000 miles. An estimated 3.5 billion people around the world, along with the assembled athletes watched the arrival of the flame, curious who the final torch bearer would be.
The final runner, four-time discus gold-medal winner Al Oerter, arrives at the stadium and ignites the torch held by three-time heavyweight world champion boxer Evander Holyfield who enters the stadium and is joined by Greek runner Voula Patoulidou and the two of them carry the torch around the stadium track and pass the torch to US swimmer Janet Evans.
As Beethoven`s "Ode to Joy" is played Evans takes her lap around the track towards the long ramp leading up to the top of the stadium. The cheers from the capacity crowd crescendo.
All eyes are on Evans as she climbs the ramp. Then, at the top of the stadium they are treated to a surprise. At the top of the ramp is "The Greatest", the incomparable Muhammad Ali.
The crowd gasps and then joins together in a tumultuous roar.
The heavyweight boxing gold medalist at the 1960 Olympics in Rome and regarded by many to be the greatest professional heavyweight boxing champion of all time, Ali is one of the most recognizable sports figures worldwide.
Evans touches her torch to Ali`s, igniting it.
Ali holds the Olympic torch unsteadily in his right hand while his left shakes uncontrollably with the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. He raises the flame and is met with supportive cheers from the elated audience.
Watching Muhammad Ali proudly hold the Olympic torch, despite his crippling ailment, stands as a great moment in sport, Olympics and beyond. The world was inspired by a man recognized as a great fighter during his boxing days as he continued to fight, this time his crippling ailment.
A Sports Illustrated picture of the scene was entitled: "The greatest start to an Olympics."
US President Bill Clinton, who was there to open the Olympic Games said, “That took a sackful of guts...and it's taken a lot of courage to continue to go out, to be seen...he wasn't self-conscious. He's something special.”
The emotional and inspirational moment of Muhammad Ali lighting the stadium cauldron to open the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games has become an iconic image in Olympic history.
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