Monday, July 19, 2010

July 19, 1996: The Torch

ATLANTA - The final leg of the Olympic torch relay had some memorable moments in the 1990s. There was the ski jumper taking the torch in the Lillehammer Olympics in 1992, the archer firing the arrow deep into the Barcelona night later that summer. Atlanta organizers had their hands full trying to top that.

They did a pretty good job with the way the flame entered the stadium. Four-time gold medalist Al Oerter handed it to Atlanta native Evander Holyfield, who ascended a staircase to appear right at the center of Olympic stadium. Pretty creative, pretty goosebump-inducing.

Then Holyfield was joined on his lap around the track by Voula Patoulidou, a Greek runner. Symbolism abound, with a man joined by a woman, and American joined by a Greek on the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympics. Poetic.

Those two handed off to Janet Evans, one of the most successful Olympians in American history, and one with a chance to do great things at that year's Olympics, too. As she started running up the ramp towards the cauldron, it appeared that she'd be the final person to hold the flame. Good choice, there, to go with a modern athlete for the final leg. It was unique, picking somebody modern rather than a star of the past.

So there it was. The well-decorated swimmer, holding the torch aloft, running up the ramp towards the cauldron. The Olympics were about to start, the goosebumps out in full effect. But then, as she reached the top of the ramp, she was joined by a figure in white, stepping out of the shadows. People strained, trying to figure out who it was standing next to her, who was the official last person to hold the Olympic torch. Then it hit them...

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