Remembering Muhammad Ali's iconic torch carry at the 1996 Olympics


It is easy to look back at the boxing career of Muhammad Ali and peg him as one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Ali died Friday night at the age of 74 and his influence went beyond the ring. One of his most iconic moments was at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, when the boxing legend lit the Olympic Cauldron at the Opening Ceremonies.

The person who would light the Cauldron for the 100th edition of the games was kept a secret, so the crowd went wild when Ali emerged to do the honour.

It was the first time the world really saw how Ali, who was 54 at the time, was affected by Parkinson's disease. After he collected the torch from Olympic swimmer Janet Evans, it was clear he was suffering the effects of the disease, with which he was diagnosed 12 years earlier. 

Later during those Olympics, Ali received a gold medal to replace the one he won in 1960 for earning the Light Heavyweight title when he was known as Cassius Clay.

According to his autobiography, Ali threw his medal in the Ohio River after he was refused service at a "whites only" restaurant and had grown frustrated with the racism throughout the country.

Four years after he won that medal, Clay had transformed into Muhammad Ali after he converted to Islam. He refused to enter the U.S. Military in 1967 due to his religious beliefs when his name was called for him to fight in the Vietnam War, which famously led him to be stripped of his of his boxing license and titles for three years.

However, Ali remained steadfast in his decision and famously said, "I ain't got no quarrel with the Viet Cong," which resonated heartily with many Americans.

With the 20th anniversary of the 1996 lighting ceremony coming up on July 19, Ali's appearance below the cauldron at modern-day Turner Field easily ranks as one of the most unforgettable moments in the 100-plus years of the modern Olympic Games.

Seeing Ali with that same fire he had as a boxer, despite a crippling disease, lifted the hearts of people across the world. Despite the fact he was judged for his religious beliefs and the colour of his skin at the height of his career, Ali still represented America with a smile in one of the most iconic Olympic moments ever.