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

First Olympic women’s aerials champion Cheryazova dies at 50

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MOSCOW (AP) Lina Cheryazova, the first woman to win an Olympic aerials skiing gold medal, has died. She was 50.

Officials in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, where Cheryazova was living for the last two decades, said she died “following a lengthy illness,” without giving further details.

Competing for Uzbekistan, Cheryazova won gold with a triple flip when aerials skiing debuted on the Olympic program in 1994 in Lillehammer.

Shortly after winning, she learned her mother died three weeks before.

Cheryazova’s career was derailed later that year when she suffered a serious head injury while training in the United States, and spent days in a coma. She retired after failing to qualify for the 1998 Winter Olympics.

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Clare Egan notches first World Cup podium in biathlon season finale

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In the final biathlon event of the 2018-19 season, American Clare Egan recorded her first career World Cup podium finish, placing third in the mass start in Oslo, Norway. She hit 19 of 20 targets and crossed the finish line 10.4 seconds behind winner Hanna Oberg of Sweden. Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff finished second.

Egan, 31, made her Olympic debut at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, but considered retiring from biathlon at the end of the last season. “I decided that I wanted to do one more year, just for fun, just to see how much I could learn and how good a biathlete I could become,” Egan said in a U.S. Biathlon press release.

Her decision to continue has paid off: since the start of the 2018-19 season, Egan has posted the top eight finishes of her career (including three top-10 results). She concludes the season ranked 18th in the overall World Cup standings.

“I skied much faster this year than I have in the past and I think that was due to finally finding a good balance in my training, between working hard and resting. I did not train more, but the quality was much higher. I’m very excited for the next season,” Egan told U.S. Biathlon.