On This Date in Sports July 19, 1996

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The modern Olympics celebrate their centennial year with the opening ceremonies of the XXVI Olympiad in Atlanta. A total of 197 countries participate in the parade of nations, with over 10,000 athletes marching into the stadium. The most dramatic moment comes during the lightning of the cauldron, as Muhammad Ali fighting the ravages of Parkinson’s disease does the honor. The ceremonies kick off 16 days with 271 medal events.

The games in Atlanta marked the fourth time the Summer Olympics were in the United States. The USA previously hosted the games in 1904 in St. Louis, while Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympics in 1932 and 1984. It was a major upset that the U.S. got the games so shortly after hosting them 12 years before. Atlanta began making its bid in 1987, hoping to showcase the city as the face of the new south. Athens, which hosted the first games in 1896, was seen as the heavy favorites, with Toronto, Melbourne, Australia, Manchester, England and Belgrade, Yugoslavia in the bidding. The voting went through five rounds in 1990, with a city being removed after each vote. The final round came down to Athens and Atlanta, with the Atlanta winning 51-35.

Among the new venues built for the games, was the Centennial Olympic Stadium, a stadium that would be converted to host baseball and renamed Turner Field after the games. It would play host to the Opening Ceremonies and the track and field events. The city of Atlanta also built a grand park that would be a gathering place for fans during the games. The park would play a major role during the games, as it was the location of a terroristic attack. The bombing, which resulted in two deaths, could have been much worse if not for the actions of Security Guard Richard Jewell who began evacuating the area upon seeing a suspicious package.

The Opening Ceremonies of the 1992 Olympics were punctuated with a thrilling lighting of the cauldron by which was done by archer Antonio Rebollo firing a flaming arrow. So ahead of the ceremonies in Atlanta, the big mystery was how Atlanta could top it. Several past Olympians took the torch relay on the final lap including Evander Holyfield and Janet Evans who carried the torch towards the cauldron, where Muhammad Ali was standing as the surprise reveal. With his hands shaking due to the advancing stages of his Parkinson’s, Ali lit the flame that would fly over the stadium and the games for the next 16 days.