Atlanta, GA Dec 4, 2001 (AP by Justin Bachman)–Muhammad Ali sent the Olympic torch on its two-month nationwide journey to the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City after a welcoming ceremony Tuesday in the last U.S. city to hold the games.
“This precious, magical flame can illuminate us all with its hope of a brighter future,” said Billy Payne, who led Atlanta’s effort to stage the 1996 Summer Games. “In its light, you can see the promise of a world united, not divided.”
The torch relay–averaging more than 400 miles per day–will visit 80 American cities with about 11,500 people carrying it more than 13,500 miles before its arrival in Utah for the Feb. 8 opening ceremony.
Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii are not on the torch route for logistical reasons, relay spokesman Mark Walker said.
Ali, who lighted the flame at the Atlanta Games, passed the torch to Peggy Fleming, who won a figure skating gold medal in 1968. Ali won a gold medal in boxing in 1960.
Fleming and her former coach, Robert Paul–a gold medalist in 1960–carried the flame on the first leg of its journey through Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. The torch was to end the day in Greenville, S.C.
Ali ignited the torch from a giant cauldron that had been lighted from a flame from Athens, Greece. The flame arrived on a Delta Air Lines jumbo jet painted with the words “The Soaring Spirit” and pictures of American speed skater Bonnie Blair, ski jumper Ryan Heckman and luger Duncan Kennedy.
Bill Spencer, a biathlete who competed in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, carried the torch off the plane along with Nikki Stone, a gold medalist in women’s aerials at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. They passed the torch to Blair, a six-time medalist in speed skating, and her mother.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Salt Lake officials have begun promoting the Utah Winter Games as an inspirational rallying point for the nation and an opportunity to demonstrate friendship among countries.
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. Glick is scheduled to carry the torch Dec. 23 in New York City.
New York Yankees’ manager Joe Torre, baseball legend Willie Mays, former San Francisco quarterback Steve Young and CNN anchor Paula Zahn are among 500 prominent people who will carry the torch. The rest were nominated by friends and family.
The 3-pound torch was designed by Sam Shelton, a professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, who also designed the 1996 Summer Olympics’ torch. It was constructed to withstand weather ranging from minus 40 degrees to 80 degrees, including gusty wind and heavy rain, Shelton said.
The flame will go airborne three more times on its route to Utah: from Miami to Mobile, Ala., on Sunday; from Milwaukee, Wis., to Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 6; and from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska, and then to Spokane, Wash., on Jan. 24.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press