Lighting the way
Torch begins 46-state tour to Salt Lake CityPosted: Tuesday December 04, 2001 9:47 AM
Updated: Wednesday December 05, 2001 1:24 PM
ATLANTA (AP) -- On a hot summer night more than five years ago, Muhammad Ali ended the Olympic torch relay by lighting the big red cauldron that burned above the Atlanta Games.
On Tuesday, as a mild late-autumn day caressed the South, Ali was back to the task, this time starting the symbolic flame on a cross-country journey that will end in cold and snow at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
The former heavyweight champion lighted a torch from a massive cauldron at Centennial Olympic Park and passed the flame to figure skating gold medalist Peggy Fleming.
The exchange was near the scene of a fatal bombing that rocked the Atlanta Games and returned Ali to the Olympic spotlight, where he made an emotional appearance to open 1996 Games, his hands shaking from Parkinson's disease as he sent the flame up a fuse to its perch.
In the Salt Lake City relay, the flame will involve 11,500 people, passing the fire among 3-pound torches and carrying it 13,500 miles before the Winter Games open Feb. 8.
"This precious, magical flame can illuminate us all with its hope of a brighter future," said Billy Payne, who led Atlanta's Olympic effort. "In its light, you can see the promise of a world united, not divided."
Ali and Fleming were joined by other Olympic medalists -- cyclist Lance Armstrong, five-time speedskating champion Bonnie Blair, 1960 figure skating gold medalist Robert Paul and 1998 freestyle ski winner Nikki Stone.
The closely guarded flame arrived in Atlanta after an 11-hour flight aboard a Delta Air Lines jumbo jet painted with the words "The Soaring Spirit" and pictures of Blair, ski jumper Ryan Heckman and luger Duncan Kennedy.
Fleming and Paul, her former coach, carried the flame on the first leg of its journey through the park. From there, the flame visited Coca-Cola's headquarters, a General Motors assembly plant and Athens, Ga., before arriving in Greenville, S.C., for an evening ceremony.
Bill Spencer, a biathlete who competed in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, carried the torch off the plane along with Stone. They passed the torch to Blair.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Salt Lake officials have been promoting the Winter Games as a rallying point for the nation and an opportunity to demonstrate friendship among countries.
"Our nation is in prayer," said Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, noting the grieving over the 3,700 killed in the attacks and the concern for U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. The torch "binds each of us to the family of humankind," Romney said.
Among the torch bearers will be Lyz Glick, the wife of Jeremy Glick, one of the passengers aboard United Flight 93, which crashed Sept. 11 in Pennsylvania after passengers apparently struggled with hijackers. She is to carry the torch Dec. 23 in New York.
New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, baseball great Willie Mays, former NFL quarterback Steve Young and CNN anchor Paula Zahn are among 500 celebrities who will carry the torch. The rest were nominated by friends and family.
The torch also will take a spin around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Jan. 8 and visit 80 cities in all.
The torch was designed by Sam Shelton, a professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, who also designed the torch for 1996. This year's version was built to withstand weather ranging from minus-40 degrees to 80 degrees, along with strong wind and rain, Shelton said.
The relay legs, averaging more than 400 miles, will begin at 7 a.m. each day. They will halt Dec. 24-25 in New York City for the holidays.
The torch also will travel by air three more times to Utah: from Miami to Mobile, Ala., on Sunday; from Milwaukee to Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 6; and from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska, and then to Spokane, Wash., on Jan. 24.
Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii are not on the torch route for logistical reasons, relay spokesman Mark Walker said.