Bob Costas, the voice of NBC Sports for decades, has announced he is stepping away from his desk as Prime-Time host of the Olympic broadcasts. After this announcement, Costas made the media rounds, including this interview, where he remarked on his favorite Olympic moment – the lighting of the Olympic cauldron by Muhammad Ali at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
As Costas recalled on the radio sports program, Mike & Mike, “It was both dramatic and completely stunning!” After all, the producers kept it a secret as to who the final torch bearer would be until the very last moment.
No more than 10 or 12 people on the whole planet even knew that he would be the last torch bearer.
Dick Ebersol who ran NBC Sports and was such an important part of the history of the Olympics, it was his idea to have Muhammad (Ali) do it. The night before the Olympics at the production meeting, Dick said to me and Dick Enberg, who was co-hosting the opening ceremony with me, “I’m not even going to give you a hint as to who the final torch bearer is, except that you will definitely recognize him or her. And I want your expression to be as spontaneous as that of the crowd.”
And when Janet Evans, that great Olympic swimmer climbed up the steps carrying the torch, got to the top, Muhammad literally stepped out of the shadows. So no one saw him until the very moment that he got the torch. And Janet handed him torch and you heard in that stadium something you almost never hear in an arena or stadium. You hear lots of sounds in a sports event, but you almost never hear an audible gasp. And that’s what you heard that night, because people were so stunned to see Muhammad Ali.
And here was this man, who once was one of the most physically beautiful and nimble of athletes, reduced to a man trembling, trying to hold onto that torch and light the cauldron, and yet somehow, even in that condition, there was something so dynamic and magnetic about it. And he was once one of the most vocal of athletes and by that time he had been reduced to virtual silence. And yet in that moment, he was just about as profound as he had But there was something truly unique about that moment. And every time I think about it, even now, and I’ve recounted it a couple of times in the last 24 hours when people have asked me the question you’ve just asked me, every time I think about it, I still get goosebumps.
Here is a short clip from an ESPN piece about that moment.