July 19, 1996 – Atlanta, Georgia
“No fighter will ever carry the torch into an Olympic stadium!”
That was the reaction from the reporters at Evander’s press conference after he was defeated by Riddick Bowe in their third fight. Evander said he had two goals at that point: to become world champ again, and to carry the torch at the Olympics in Atlanta. The reporters laughed off both ambitions, and HBO even did a show on why a fighter would never carry the torch. By the time the Olympics were getting ready to open, it looked like they were right.
But at midnight the night before the opening ceremonies, Evander got a call from Dr. Harvey Schiller, head of Turner Sports and executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee. “Evander,” he said, “we’d like you to carry the Olympic torch into the stadium during the opening ceremonies.”
At first Evander thought someone was playing a joke on him, but when he realized Schiller was serious, the first thing he asked was who was going to light the Olympic flame. “Can’t tell you that,” Harvey said. “It’s a surprise.”
The next night, a runner handed Evander the torch in a tunnel below the Olympic stadium. He ran a few steps and emerged onto the middle of the stadium floor. In front of 85,000 people in the stands and hundreds of millions more watching all over the world, Evander began running around the track and was soon joined by Greek hurdler Voula Patoulidou. He then handed the torch to the great Olympic swimmer Janet Evans, who ran the final leg and then handed it off to…Muhammad Ali!
Nobody knew until that very moment Ali was even going to be there, much less light the Olympic flame. The Games hadn’t even started yet and already one of its most exciting moments was underway. It was doubly exciting for Evander personally. Not only were there two fighters carrying the torch to prove the sporting press wrong, but one of them had the high honor of lighting the Olympic flame.
It was one of the greatest nights of Evander’s life.
© 2011 by Steeplechase Run, Inc. All Rights Reserved — Posted by permission of the author