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Ali Lights the Flame

The 1996 Olympic Games was a stage for unprecedented and revolutionary greatness.

July 19, 1996 – Who would be last in the procession of stars, dignitaries, and local heroes who had carried the Olympic torch for the 84 days and over 15,000 miles across America?  Who would light the flame at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Atlanta?  Unlike most secrets, this one had been more closely guarded than the recipe for Atlanta’s hometown beverage of choice, Coca-Cola.

When a shaking hand emerged from the shadows to take the torch from swimmer Janet Evans, I felt foolish for not having guessed the answer: Who else should have had a distinct honor but none other than Muhammad Ali?  Before Ali left the stadium, President Bill Clinton, who had officially opened the Games, put his hands on the shoulders of The Greatest and evoked the emotions behind the roar of the crowd:

“They didn’t tell me who would light the flame, but when I saw it was you, I cried.”

 

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