Janet Evans relives 1996 Olympic torch handoff to Muhammad Ali (video)

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Janet Evans tells people that she would give up all five of her Olympic swimming medals to live that moment just one more time.

So Evans considered it an honor to host the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards on Sept. 19.

“I think we all have our Muhammad Ali moments, moments that he inspired us, moments that he changed our lives, moments that he inspired us to be better than what we already are,” Evans said in her opening address at a podium inside a hotel ballroom in Louisville, Ky., the 1960 Olympic boxing champion’s hometown. “My Muhammad Ali story took me from being an Olympic winner to being an Olympic champion.”

Evans went on to retell her part of the Atlanta 1996 Olympic torch relay as the next to last torch bearer. Here’s a transcript:

About six weeks outside of the Olympic Games, I received a call from a gentleman named Billy Payne, the great southern gentleman who brought the Olympics to the great city of Atlanta. Billy asked me if I would do him a favor and run the torch at the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games. He would not tell me who was passing me the torch. He would not tell me who I was passing the torch to, but I would be the second to last person to carry that flame, and the final woman.

I said to Mr. Payne, ‘Mr. Payne, I’m a swimmer. Swimmers don’t go to Opening Ceremonies. We swim the next day.’ I’d never been to the Opening Ceremonies as an athlete. I’d been in ’84 as a spectator. I said, ‘Plus, how many people are going to be watching?’ And he said, ‘Oh, you know, three billion or so.’ And I said, ‘Well, Mr. Payne, once again I’m a swimmer. Swimmers don’t run. I am not going to carry a lit flame through the Atlanta stadium and fall and forever be remembered as that little swimmer who dropped the Olympic flame and lit the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Stadium on fire.’ Well, in his true southern gentleman style, Mr. Payne talked me into it.

And at midnight, the night before Opening Ceremonies, under the cover of darkness, I went to the Atlanta stadium, and I practiced running the torch. The only thing was the person that was lighting that cauldron wasn’t there. But when they told me it was going to be Muhammad Ali, and when they told me that I had to keep it secret, because let me tell you I wanted to tell everyone, I was more nervous than ever. How do you pass the Olympic flame to the greatest, right? I was out of my mind, and I had to swim the next day.

Before I know it, it’s the Opening Ceremonies, and I’m running along that track, and I’m thinking, don’t fall, Janet. Just don’t fall. Get up to Ali. He’s going to be waiting for you. Don’t fall. Don’t light the stadium on fire. Don’t catch my hair on fire with the flame. And I looked to my left, my first Opening Ceremonies as an athlete, and I see 10,000 athletes that are in Atlanta representing their countries. I see the Americans, because they pushed their way to the front of that crowd of athletes. And I see the gymnasts on the shoulders of the basketball team. And I see the water polo team. I don’t see swimmers, because they weren’t there. My friends on the water polo team are shouting, ‘You’re going to fall!’ And I didn’t.

And I looked past the Americans, for the first time. This was my third Olympic Games. I was the girl in the village that ate with the Americans. I spoke only to the Americans. I didn’t experience the Olympics. And I looked, and I saw athletes from all over the world. And I saw, yes, the stars, but I saw the table tennis player from Mongolia, and I saw the fencer from Tunisia, and I saw the athletes that we don’t see on NBC. And I saw the looks in their eyes. And I saw the excitement they were experiencing for being at the Olympics and participating in something that brings people together.

And I ran up that track, and I ran up those three big, long stairways. And I got to the top, and there stood Muhammad Ali. And I never cried after any of my Olympic medals, but I wanted to cry. And my moment with him was brief; you saw how quickly he lit that flame. But that moment for me, standing there, watching this man, with his courage and his determination, and being brought into the Olympic fold once again, 36 years after his gold medal in 1960. And to stand there in front of the world and inspire even more young people like myself, to be and do and accomplish anything we want to do, it was an epiphany for me. It was a defining moment in my Olympic career.

After those Olympics, I wanted to quit swimming and go back to college, and I don’t know what I wanted to do. But after standing there with that man and watching him, I realized that as an Olympian, as an Olympic champion, a mantle we carry is to inspire and motivate others. And no one has ever done that greater than Muhammad Ali. So, Mr. Ali, thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for allowing me to continue to inspire young swimmers and young people to do and be the very best that they can be as well. Thank you.

MORE ATLANTA 1996: Ten memorable moments from Turner Field/Centennial Olympic Stadium

Wladimir Klitschko remembers meeting Ali at 1996 Olympics

What to watch in Olympic sports this week

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Mikaela Shiffrin weathered a chest cold to win her third medal (and second gold) of the World Alpine Skiing Championships on Saturday.

A hectic racing schedule means she doesn’t get much of a break.

Following her performance at Worlds in Are, Sweden, Shiffrin headed to Stockholm for a city event, which involves a series of head-to-head, knockout-style races in a bracket format. That event will re-air tonight at 11:30 PM on NBCSN. The World Cup circuit continues in Switzerland for the women and Bulgaria for the men, where two-time Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety is expected to compete in Sunday’s giant slalom.

Winter sports action continues in Seefeld, Austria, which will host the world’s top cross-country skiers, ski jumpers and nordic combined athletes at the World Nordic Skiing Championships over the next two weeks. The U.S. contingent is headlined by PyeongChang gold medalist Jessie Diggins, who won her first World Cup race of the season, an individual sprint, last Saturday.

Meanwhile, the road to Tokyo passes through New York City with the USA Track and Field Indoor Championships on Staten Island. Two Rio Olympic bronze medalists, Emma Coburn (3000m steeplechase) and Clayton Murphy (800m) headline the U.S. field, along with their Olympic teammate and 2016 world indoor high jump champion Vashti Cunningham. The event will air Saturday and Sunday on NBCSN.

ALPINE SKIING WORLD CUP — Stockholm, Sweden; Bansko, Bulgaria; Crans-Montana, Switzerland

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Tuesday 11:30 a.m. City Event – Stockholm Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
11:30 p.m. City Event – Stockholm* NBCSN
Friday 3:30 a.m. Men’s Combined (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
7:00 a.m. Men’s Combined (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 4:15 a.m. Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
5:45 a.m. Men’s Super-G Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 3:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
4:30 a.m. Women’s Combined (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Women’s Combined (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
10:30 p.m. Women’s Combined (Run 2)* NBCSN

*Same-day delay

WORLD JUNIOR ALPINE SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS — Val di Fassa, Italy

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Wednesday 5:00 a.m. Men’s Downhill OlympicChannel.com

BOBSLED AND SKELETON WORLD CUP — Calgary, Alberta

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 4:30 p.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
5:30 p.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
7:00 p.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
8:00 p.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Saturday 11:00 a.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
12:30 p.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Women’s Bobsled (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
3:30 p.m. Two-Man Bobsled (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
4:45 p.m. Women’s Bobsled (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Midnight Women’s Bobsled (Run 2) NBCSN
5:45 p.m. Two-Man Bobsled (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Sunday 10:30 a.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
12:15 p.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
3:30 p.m. Four-Man Bobsled (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
4:00 p.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 2)* Olympic Channel
5:00 p.m. Four-Man Bobsled (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Monday 12:30 a.m. Four-man Bobsled (Run 2) NBCSN

*Same-day delay

FENCING GRAND PRIX — Cairo, Egypt; Torino, Italy

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 6:00 a.m.  From Torino, Italy* Olympic Channel
Sunday 8:40 a.m. From Cairo, Egypt OlympicChannel.com

*Pre-recorded

FREESTYLE SKIING WORLD CUP — Tazawako, Japan; Sunny Valley, Russia; Minsk, Belarus

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 11:30 p.m. Moguls Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 3:00 a.m. Ski Cross OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
11:00 a.m. Aerials OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
3:00 p.m. Aerials* Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m. Dual Moguls Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 3:00 a.m. Ski Cross OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold

*Same-day delay

GYMNASTICS WORLD CUP — Melbourne, Australia

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 2:00 a.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 1) OlympicChannel.com
9:00 p.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 1)* Olympic Channel
11:00 p.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 2) OlympicChannel.com
Sunday 9:00 p.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 2)* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

LUGE WORLD CUP — Sochi, Russia

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 2:30 a.m. Doubles (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
3:50 a.m. Doubles (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
5:55 a.m. Women’s Singles (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
7:20 a.m. Women’s Singles (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
1:30 p.m. Doubles (Run 2)* Olympic Channel
7:00 p.m. Women’s Singles (Run 2)* Olympic Channel
Sunday 1:40 a.m. Men’s Singles (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
3:15 a.m. Men’s Singles (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
5:00 a.m. Sprints OlympicChannel.com
7:30 a.m. Team Relay OlympicChannel.com
7:00 p.m. Men’s Singles (Run 2)* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

WORLD NORDIC SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS — Seefeld, Austria

 

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Thursday 8:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M & W Sprint Finals Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
11:30 p.m. Cross-Country: M & W Sprint Finals* NBCSN
Friday 4:30 a.m. Nordic combined: LH Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
10:00 a.m. Nordic combined: Indiv. 10km Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
10:15 a.m. Nordic combined: Indiv. 10km NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 5:00 a.m. Cross-Country: Women’s 15km Skiathlon OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Men’s 30km Skiathlon OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Women’s 15km Skiathlon* Olympic Channel
8:30 a.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Final OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
9:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Men’s 30km Skiathlon* Olympic Channel
10:30 a.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Final* Olympic Channel
Sunday 4:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team LH OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M & W Team Sprint Final OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team Sprint OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:45 a.m. Ski jumping: Men’s LH Team Final* OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
9:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team LH* Olympic Channel
10:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M&W Team Sprint Finals* Olympic Channel
2 p.m. Nordic Combined: Team Sprint* Olympic Channel
3 p.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Team Final Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m. Cross-Country: Women’s Team Sprint Final* NBCSN

*Same-day delay

WORLD PARA NORDIC SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Thursday 1:00 p.m. Biathlon: Individual OlympicChannel.com
Saturday 1:00 p.m. Cross-Country Skiing: Relays OlympicChannel.com
Sunday 1:00 p.m. Cross-Country Skiing: Long Distance OlympicChannel.com

SNOWBOARDING WORLD CUP — Secret Garden, China

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 1:00 a.m. Parallel Giant Slalom OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 1:00 a.m. Parallel Slalom OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold

WORLD SPRINT SPEED SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS — Heerenveen, Netherlands

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 9:00 a.m. Day 1 NBC Sports Gold
8:00 p.m. Day 1* Olympic Channel
Sunday 9:00 a.m. Day 2 NBC Sports Gold
8:00 p.m. Day 2* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

USA TRACK & FIELD INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS — New York City, New York

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 6:30 p.m. Day 2 NBCSN NBCSN
Sunday 4:00 p.m. Day 3 NBCSN NBCSN

Shiffrin wins city event, locks up World Cup slalom title

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STOCKHOLM — Mikaela Shiffrin wrapped up the season-long slalom World Cup title Tuesday, three days after winning her record fourth straight world title in the discipline. And she matched yet another record in the process.

Shiffrin won a parallel city event, defeating Christina Geiger of Germany in both runs to win the final by 0.27 seconds.

The victory gave the American two-time overall champion an insurmountable 203-point lead in the season standings with two races remaining. Her closest challenger, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, was beaten by Geiger in the quarterfinals.

“Each run I was pretty good but not always the fastest,” Shiffrin said. “But I was consistent and for tonight, that was enough. It was really fun, actually.”

It was Shiffrin’s 57th career win and 14th of the season, matching the record for most World Cup victories in a single campaign, set by Swiss great Vreni Schneider in the 1990s.

Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland won the men’s event, beating Olympic champion Andre Myhrer of Sweden in the final.

Marcel Hirscher lost in the quarterfinals but the Austrian seven-time overall champion gained enough World Cup points to lock up the slalom season title.

Both Shiffrin and Hirscher have won the crystal globe for best slalom skier six times in the past seven seasons. They both missed the title in 2016, when Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter and Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen finished top of the rankings.

Beaten by Vlhova in a similar event in Oslo on New Year’s Day, this time Shiffrin took the win, but she had to overcome a tough fight with Anna Swenn Larsson in the semifinal.

Cheered by her Swedish home crowd, Larsson won the first run by 0.09 seconds, but Shiffrin edged her by 0.10 in the second run to progress with the smallest margin possible.

In the final, Shiffrin was faster than Geiger twice as the German settled for her career best result and first World Cup podium in eight years.

Shiffrin triumphed despite still suffering from the cold she also had to deal with at the worlds in Are last week.

“I skied as well as I could. Even if I was healthy, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do better. Now I have some time to really recover,” she said.

Shiffrin will sit out races in Crans Montana this weekend and Sochi next week, before returning to the circuit on March 8-9 for technical events in Spindleruv Mlyn in Czech Republic, the resort where she had her World Cup debut in 2011 at age 15.

In the men’s event, Zenhaeusern beat Hirscher in the quarterfinal on his way to his second career victory, after also winning here last year.

Hirscher still ended up winning the season title as his two main rivals, Clement Noel and Kristoffersen, had gone out in the opening round.

“I am very happy. Winning the title today was one of the reasons for my start here,” said Hirscher, who successfully defended his world title in the discipline just two days earlier.

Noel, who won the World Cup slaloms in Wengen and Kitzbuehel last month, looked like defeating Manfred Moelgg of Italy but the Frenchman was disqualified for straddling the final gate.

And Kristoffersen, beaten by Norwegian teammate Sebastian Foss-Solevaag, has failed to go beyond the opening round of all six city events he has competed in.

The next men’s World Cup races are in Bansko, Bulgaria, from Friday through Sunday.

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