Muhammad Ali lights the Olympic flame at Atlanta.
Photo: Getty Images
1. Ron Clarke battles the flame, then lights the cauldron – Melbourne 1956
Victorian Ron Clarke, a runner who won a bronze medal in the 10,000 metres at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, sent the MCG crowd into raptures when he set the cauldron alight to mark the beginning of the Melbourne Games in '56.
The decision to bestow the honour on Clarke was an intriguing one given that he had not yet participated at an Olympics ('64 and 1968 in Mexico City were the two he competed in). At that stage, he was renowned as the holder of the mile junior world record.
Interestingly, Clarke sustained deep burns when running with the torch. He conducted three months of national service which hindered his quest to compete in Melbourne. He later said of his moment: "It was very exciting, but I would have given my right arm to be there as a competitor."
2. Rocket man – Los Angeles 1984
It was as if Superman himself had graced the Games of the XXIII Olympiad when the courageous jetpack-clad Bill Suitor flew into the arena. Technology-wise, the performance was ahead of its time. It was arguably the most memorable moment of the '84 Games, although it was nearly topped by what immediately followed, with the entire crowd at the stadium holding up cards which were placed on their seats to form the flags of every participating country.
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3. Muhammad Ali lights the cauldron – Atlanta 1996
Ali had US president Bill Clinton and the whole world in tears as he bravely fought his Parkinson's disease symptoms to light the torch in Atlanta. It was rather appropriate that fellow boxing great Evander Holyfield carried it into the stadium. Janet Evans, an American swimmer who is a four-time Olympic gold medallist, handed over to Ali, the light heavyweight Olympic gold medallist at Rome in 1960 (then known as Cassius Clay) and widely regarded as one of, if not the greatest athlete of all-time. Ali lit the flame that was then flown up onto the cauldron to mark the start of the Games. Ali, trembling and shaking, showed the courage he was revered for and successfully completed the task to a deafening roar from the crowd.
4. Nikki Webster sings "Under the Southern Skies" – Sydney 2000
Webster went from being a regular 13-year old schoolgirl to an international superstar after her various roles at the opening ceremony in Sydney. She participated in an act which encapsulated the country's love of the beach, and another which highlighted Australia's Aboriginal heritage. But it was her singing of "Under the Southern Skies" which particularly caught the attention of the crowd, and the world. Organisers were so impressed with her performance that she was asked to sing at the closing ceremony. She then landed a deal with record company BMG.
5. Athletics arena transforms into a swimming pool – Athens 2004
Greece sent jaws dropping around the globe when the athletics stadium in Athens was converted into a swimming pool for a brief moment. A drummer walked in, covered in water up to his knees. An electric javelin was hurled over the pool. And a Cycladic Head emerged and split into 18 pieces to depict the Greek islands.
6. The spectacular cauldron lighting – Beijing 2008
Former Chinese Olympian Li Ning was held in the air with wires as he was flown around the arena. The remarkable scene culminated when the gymnast set a rod alight which was then shot into the cauldron, signifying the beginning of the Games. Ning took home six medals from Los Angeles in 1984, including three gold.
Cathy Freeman's lighting of the cauldron at Sydney 2000 has already featured in our Olympic Lowdown section, which is why it has been excluded here.
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