Muhammad Ali lights 1996 Atlanta Olympic cauldron (video)

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Muhammad Ali authored one of the most memorable Olympic moments, 36 years after he won his gold medal.

On July 19, 1996, Ali emerged as the final torch bearer at the Atlanta Olympic Opening Ceremony, lighting the cauldron for the Centennial Games. It’s one of the many indelible images of the great Ali, who died Friday at age 74.

In Atlanta, Ali received the Olympic flame from swimmer Janet Evans and, slowed by Parkinson’s and shaking, bent down to light a small rocket that eventually carried the flame to the red cauldron.

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

“I never cried after any of my Olympic medals, but I wanted to cry,” Evans said last year. “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.”

Another one of the final torch bearers, boxer Evander Holyfield, reflected on that night in a Players Tribune piece last year.

“As Janet Evans lit Ali’s torch, a video played on the big screen displaying all Ali had done as an athlete and a humanitarian,” Holyfield wrote. “It showed what he stood for and that he used his fame to bring attention to the greater causes that could help mankind. … I wanted to be the one to light the Olympic cauldron, but when I saw Ali emerge on stage — arms shaking and fighting the Parkinson’s that was taking over his body — all I could think was, They chose the right man. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Holyfield was the original choice to light the cauldron, longtime NBC Sports and Olympics executive Dick Ebersol said last year, according to the Sports Business Journal. Ebersol learned this in December 1995 and immediately argued for Ali instead.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it. It should be Muhammad Ali,” Ebersol said then, according to SBJ. “Muhammad Ali may be, outside of perhaps the pope, the most beloved figure in the world. In the third world, he’s a hero. In the Muslim world, he’s a hero and a fellow traveler. To anybody young — just about — in the United States, he’s a man of great moral principle who was willing to go to prison.”

Ali returned for one final Olympic appearance at the 2012 Opening Ceremony in London, where he was one of eight people chosen to carry the Olympic Flag.

VIDEO: Janet Evans relives 1996 Olympic torch handoff to Muhammad Ali

Sam Mikulak wins fifth U.S. all-around gymnastics title, ties record

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BOSTON — Sam Mikulak‘s record-tying fifth U.S. all-around title came by his largest margin of victory. What he’s really yearning for is a first individual world championships medal.

Mikulak, the only Olympian in the field, added to his lead from Thursday and easily won by 4.75 points at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Saturday. Yul Moldauer, the 2017 U.S. champion in Mikulak’s absence, improved from sixth to finish second.

“This is my favorite national championship that I’ve won so far,” Mikulak told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “I finally feel like I’m in peak shape.”

Full scores are here.

Mikulak, 25, joined Blaine Wilson as the only men to win five U.S. all-around titles. He also became the oldest champ since David Durante in 2007.

But Mikulak is no longer satisfied with gold medals at nationals. He is one of the best American gymnasts to never earn an individual Olympic or world medal (Wilson is also on this list). He called this title “a stepping stone.”

Mikulak is sure to be named to the five-man team for October’s world championships, his next chance for that first individual global podium. Tokyo 2020 would be his third and likely final shot at an Olympic medal (Wilson won his only Olympic medal at his third and final Games in 2004).

“I’m trying to look into the world and international scene a little bit more, and if this [national] title comes along in the process, that’s a little cherry on top,” Mikulak said before the meet. “Until I can check some of that off will I feel like I’ve earned my right to retire.”

Mikulak hit all six routines Saturday, including a 15.25 on parallel bars that was the highest score of the two-day meet. He totaled 87.75 points. That’s 2.6 more than Thursday, when Mikulak fell twice and still had the best all-around score thanks to major mistakes from the other favorites.

“If I can go out and do this [repeat Saturday’s routines at worlds], I think I can make a very strong case for [a world medal],” said Mikulak, who didn’t do the all-around at worlds and nationals last year coming back from a torn Achilles.

Nationals end Sunday with the last day of women’s competition live on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app from 8-10 p.m. ET. Simone Biles carries a huge lead, eyeing a record fifth U.S. women’s all-around title as the first non-teen winner since 1971.

GYMNASTICS NATIONALS: TV/Stream Schedule | Where Are The Final Five?

Next for the U.S. men? World championships in Doha in October. Usually, the world team would be named right after nationals, but this year a September selection camp has been added. Up to eight men will be invited to that camp, after which the five-man world team will be named.

It could be a very new-look squad aside from the likely leaders Mikulak and Moldauer. Allan Bower and Donothan Bailey, who were third and fourth Saturday, have never been to a worlds. Neither has Alec Yoder, who won the national title on pommel horse, making him valuable.

All but one of Mikulak’s teammates from the last two Olympics have retired. The one who hasn’t — Rio pommel horse bronze medalist Alex Naddour — has been suspended since June for unspecified reasons.

Another top American, Marvin Kimble, withdrew before nationals due to injury but is training at his Wisconsin gym. He is petitioning for a spot on the national team to get into the worlds selection camp.

Yet another, Eddie Penev, is out with a torn ACL. Olympic alternate Donnell Whittenburg, competed here, but only on parallel bars and still rings, not fully back from November torn rotator cuff surgery.

Kimble, Mikulak, Moldauer, Naddour, Penev and Whittenburg were the U.S. entries at the 2017 Worlds, which only had individual events. Only Moldauer came back with a medal, a floor exercise bronze.

U.S. high-performance director Brett McClure has team medal aspirations but said before nationals that China, Japan and Russia are in a different league in terms of routine difficulty.

The U.S. men were fifth at the Rio Olympics and at the last worlds with a team event in 2015. That marked the first back-to-back global championships without a medal since 2006 and 2007.

Mikulak has been a part of recent U.S. teams that underwhelmed. He hopes that what happened at nationals — everybody struggling on the first day but nailing routines on the second, will portend success.

“Usually we do well in qualifications and then choke in team finals,” at the Olympics and worlds, Mikulak said. “So if we do the opposite, I’m totally cool with that.”

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Christian Coleman wins Birmingham 100m in photo finish (video)

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In a matchup of two breakout U.S. sprinters, Christian Coleman beat Noah Lyles in a 100m for the second time this season at a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain on Saturday.

Coleman, the 2017 World silver medalist, clocked 9.94 seconds. Lyles, the U.S. champion who is stronger at 200m, crossed in third in 9.98. Brit Reece Prescod was between them, also in 9.94 seconds and all but catching Coleman in the last half of the race.

Coleman is the fastest indoor 60m runner of all time, but the field usually closes on him in the last half of 100m races. Lyles is not a strong starter but makes up ground in the second half.

Lyles and another American, Ronnie Baker, are the fastest men in the world this year at 9.88 seconds. Coleman clocked 9.82 last year and could have broken 9.9 this year but missed all of June with a hamstring injury.

“It was a sigh of relief because you never know what to expect when you come back from injury,” Coleman said, according to meet organizers. “I got my rhythm back, and I came out with the win in a good time.”

Lyles said he thought he was last when he crossed the finish line and that it was his worst race.

Full results are here. The Diamond League concludes with finals meets in Zurich and Brussels on Aug. 30-31.

In other events Saturday, Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo emerged from one of the deepest 200m fields in history to win in 22.15 seconds.

Every woman in the field ranks in the top 60 all-time. Miller-Uibo upset Brit Dina Asher-Smith, the triple gold medalist from last week’s European Championships that included the fastest 200m in the world this year (21.89). The Bahamian Miller-Uibo is undefeated at all distances this year.

“The 200m isn’t a race that I love,” Miller-Uibo said. “I really do like it, but not as much as the 400m.”

London Olympic champion Greg Rutherford finished last in what may have been his last long jump competition. The 31-year-old Brit has said he will retire after this season after a series of injuries in recent years.

American Sandi Morris beat Greek Katerina Stefanidi in a reversal of their 2016 Olympic and 2017 World Championships finish. But Morris only cleared 4.62 meters in windy conditions, well off her 2018 world-leading clearance of 4.95 from July 27.

American Fred Kerley, the second-fastest 400m runner in the world last year, edged European champion Matthew Hudson-Smith of Great Britain to win in 45.54. Kerley ranks eighth int the world this season, with Michael Norman having the fastest time of 43.61.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan held off Ethiopian Gudaf Tsegay — 4:00.60 to 4:01.03 — in a battle of the Nos. 3 and 4 1500m runners this year. Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba and U.S. breakthrough Shelby Houlihan, not in Saturday’s field, remain the fastest women of 2018.

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