Muhammad Ali lights 1996 Atlanta Olympic cauldron (video)

1 Comment

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

Salwa Eid Naser, world 400m champion, provisionally banned

Salwa Eid Naser
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Salwa Eid Naser, the world 400m champion of Bahrain, was provisionally suspended for missing three drug tests in a 12-month span.

“I’ve never been a cheat. I will never be,” Naser, 22, said in an Instagram live video. “I only missed three drug tests, which is normal. It happens. It can happen to anybody. I don’t want people to get confused in all this because I would never cheat.”

Naser said “the missed tests” came before last autumn’s world championships, where she ran the third-fastest time in history (48.14 seconds) and the fastest in 34 years.

“This year I have not been drug tested,” she said. “We are still talking about the ones of last season before the world championships.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit, which handles doping cases for track and field, did not announce whether Naser’s gold medal could be stripped.

“Hopefully, it’ll get resolved because I don’t really like the image, but it has happened,” she said. “It’s going to be fine. It’s very hard to have this little stain on my name.”

Naser, the 2017 World silver medalist, upset Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas for the world title in Doha on Oct. 3.

The only women who have run faster than Naser, who was born Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother who sprinted and a Bahraini father, were dubious — East German Marita Koch (47.60) and Czechoslovakia’s Jarmila Kratochvilova (47.99).

“I would never take performance-enhancing drugs,” Naser said. “I believe in talent, and I know I have the talent.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: What happened to LaShawn Merritt?

When Laurie Hernandez winked at the Olympics

Leave a comment

Blink, and you may have missed one of the social-media-sensation moments of the Rio Olympics.

Laurie Hernandez, then 16, was the youngest woman on the U.S. Olympic team across all sports. She was about to start arguably the most important floor exercise routine of her life.

So, she winked.

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense,” she wrote in her 2017 book, “I Got This,” a nod to what she told herself before her balance beam routine earlier that night. “So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment.”

The U.S., on its fourth and final rotation, already had the team gold all but locked up. Knowing she was nervous, Hernandez’s teammates confirmed to her that they were a few points ahead.

Then Hernandez heard the beep, and it was time to go. She was in the view of an out-of-bounds judge at the Rio Olympic Arena.

“Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink,” she wrote. “Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone [Biles] and Aly [Raisman] compete in their all-around finals and she said, ‘Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.’ I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, ‘Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.’ That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was ‘Oh my goodness.'”

Hernandez, a New Jersey native, finished the Olympics with a team gold and balance beam silver.

She took more than two years off before making a comeback in earnest last year, announcing she planned to return to competition this spring under new coaches in California. Now that’s on hold given the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed the Tokyo Olympics to 2021.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Jade Carey clinches first U.S. Olympic gymnastics berth