1996 Summer Olympics torch relay

The 1996 Summer Olympics torch relay was run from April 27, 1996, until July 19, 1996, prior to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.[1] The route covered 26,875 kilometres (16,699 mi) across the United States and included a trek on the Pony Express, a ride on the Union Pacific Railroad, and a torch was taken into space for the first time. The relay involved over 12,000 torchbearers, including Muhammad Ali, who was chosen to light the Olympic cauldron.[2]

1996 Olympic Torch Relay logo.svg
Host cityAtlanta, United States
Countries visitedGreece, United States of America
Distance26,875 kilometres (16,699 mi)
Torch bearers12,467
Start dateApril 27, 1996
End dateJuly 19, 1996[1]
Torch designerMalcolm Grear


Top section of a torch showing the logo of the 1996 Games

The torch was designed by Malcolm Grear and featured 22 aluminum "reeds" intended to represent the number of times that the Games had been held. A gold-plated band towards the base of the torch features the names of all 20 host cities up to and including Atlanta while the logo is etched into another band near the top. The handle, made of Georgia hardwood by Hillerich & Bradsby Co, maker of Louisville Slugger bats, is found near the center of the 76 centimetres (30 in) torch.[3][4] In total it weighed 1,600 grams (56 oz).[4] Torchbearers were allowed to purchase for $275 the torch that they had carried.[5]


A runner carrying the torch during the relay

The initial journey of the Olympic flame always begins in Olympia. Over 800 people carried the torch a distance of 2,141 kilometres (1,330 mi) across Greece, the most extensive in the history of the Games.[4] The flame then landed at Los Angeles International Airport on April 27, 1996, and was met with a welcome ceremony. The first torchbearer of the American part of the relay, Rafer Johnson, was the final torchbearer at the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles.[6] It went on to visit 42 states and 29 state capitols along a journey of 26,875 kilometres (16,699 mi).[3][4] The torch was carried by 12,467 bearers including 2,000 former Olympians or other people somehow linked to the Olympic movement, 5,500 people who had been nominated locally as "community heroes", and 2,500 people picked out in a draw.[4][5]

The route was designed to take in as many historically and culturally significant locations as possible.[6] The torch was first carried to Santa Monica Pier and was greeted at the first of hundreds of celebratory events. It then proceeded along the coast and up to Kingman, Arizona, at which point it joined the famous Route 66, passing close to the Grand Canyon and reaching Hoover Dam. It was carried across by Martha Watson and the world's largest US flag was unfurled across the wall of the dam.[6]

The route featured a wide variety in the methods of transport used, including bicycles, boats, and trains.[3] From Las Vegas the flame was passed onto a special cauldron car on a Union Pacific train, the first of several train journeys. The National Pony Express Association participated in the journey with riders carrying the torch for over 56 continuous hours. On June 12 the torch was taken on board a replica of a 19th-century packet boat and pulled for 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) along Erie Canal by mule.[6] The torch was also carried into space for the first time, with astronauts taking an unlit torch with them aboard Space Shuttle Columbia as part of STS-78.[7][8][9] This was replicated during the 2000 Summer Olympics torch relay and as part of the 2014 Winter Olympics torch relay.[10]

While the relay went without any major mishaps there was need for a 15-mile diversion on the route between Baton Rouge and New Orleans – a 310,000 US gallons (1,200,000 l; 260,000 imp gal) gasoline spillage in Gramercy, Louisiana, necessitated the detour.[5]

Date Map

April 27 (day 1): Los Angeles
April 28 (day 2): San Diego

April 29 (day 3): Yuma
April 30 (day 4): Phoenix

May 1 (day 5): Las Vegas

May 2 (day 6): San Luis Obispo
May 3 (day 7): San Jose
May 4 (day 8): San Francisco
May 5 (day 9): Sacramento

May 6 (day 10): Eugene
May 7 (day 11): Salem
May 8 (day 12): Portland

May 9 (day 13): Olympia
May 10 (day 14)): Seattle

May 11 (day 15): Boise
May 12 (day 16): Pocatello

May 13 (day 17): Salt Lake City

May 14 (day 18): Cheyenne

May 15 (day 19): Denver
May 16 (day 20): Colorado Springs

May 17 (day 21): Kearney

May 18 (day 22): St. Joseph
May 19 (day 23): Kansas City

May 20 (day 24): Topeka
May 21 (day 25): Wichita

May 22 (day 26): Oklahoma City

May 23 (day 27): Dallas
May 24 (day 28): Fort Worth

May 25 (day 29)): Baton Rouge
May 26 (day 30): New Orleans

May 27 (day 31): Jackson

May 28 (day 32): Little Rock

May 29 (day 33): Memphis

May 30 (day 34): St. Louis

May 31 (day 35): Iowa City
June 1 (day 36): Cedar Rapids

June 2 (day 37): Minneapolis
June 3 (day 38): Saint Paul

June 4 (day 39): Milwaukee

June 5 (day 40): Chicago

June 6 (day 41): Indianapolis

June 7 (day 42): Louisville

June 8 (day 43): Cincinnati
June 9 (day 44): Columbus

June 10 (day 45): Detroit

June 11 (day 46): Cleveland

June 12 (day 47): Erie

June 13 (day 48): Buffalo
June 14 (day 49): Niagara Falls
June 15 (day 50): Rochester
June 16 (day 51): Albany

June 17 (day 52): Bennington

June 18 (day 53): Nashua

June 19 (day 54): Boston

June 20 (day 55): Providence

June 21 (day 56): New Haven

June 22 (day 57): New York City

June 23 (day 58): Trenton

June 24 (day 59): Philadelphia

June 25 (day 60): Baltimore
June 26 (day 61): Washington, D.C.

June 27 (day 62): Richmond

June 28 (day 63): Raleigh
June 29 (day 64): Winston-Salem
June 30 (day 65): Charlotte

July 1 (day 66): Greenville

July 2 (day 67): Knoxville
July 3 (day 68): Nashville

July 4 (day 69): Birmingham
July 5 (day 70): Montgomery

July 6 (day 71): Tallahassee
July 7 (day 72): Gainesville
July 8 (day 73): Tampa
July 9 (day 74): Sarasota
July 9 (day 74): Jacksonville
July 10 (day 75): Miami
July 11 (day 76): Fort Lauderdale
July 12 (day 77): West Palm Beach
July 13 (day 78): Orlando
July 14 (day 79): Daytona Beach

July 15 (day 80): Savannah
July 16 (day 81): Macon
July 17 (day 82): Athens
July 18 (day 83): Rome
July 19 (day 84): Atlanta
July 19 (day 84): Centennial Olympic Stadium


The relay was sponsored by Coca-Cola with accompanying cars, vans, and trucks emblazoned with the logo. Revenue from the drinks sold from the travelling party were donated to charity.[5] As part of the deal Coca-Cola were allowed to choose a quarter of the relay runners. They gave nomination forms away as part of a promotional deal with 12-packs of their cans with the entries largely being selected at random.[11]

Opening ceremonyEdit

Muhammad Ali, the surprise final torchbearer, pictured in 2004

The end of the relay took place on July 19, 1996, at the opening ceremony in Atlanta. Four-time gold medal-winning discus thrower Al Oerter carried the torch to the stadium, passing it to Evander Holyfield. Holyfield was then joined by Voula Patoulidou and the pair passed the flame to American swimmer Janet Evans, the penultimate torchbearer, who carried it around a lap of the track and up a long ramp leading towards the northern end of the stadium.[12][13]

The identity of the final torchbearer had been kept secret and was only revealed when Muhammad Ali appeared at the top of the ramp. Ali, who had won gold at the 1960 Games in Rome and later developed Parkinson's disease, lit a mechanical torch which then travelled along a wire, lighting the cauldron at the top of a 116-foot (35 m) tower.[12][13] His appearance has been referred to as being one of the most inspiring, poignant, and emotional moments in Olympic history.[12][14][15]


  1. ^ a b Longman, Jere (9 December 1995). "OLYMPICS;Torch Run Takes a Wrong Turn". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ "Muhammad Ali Lights the Olympic Cauldron". International Olympic Committee. 2017-02-06. Retrieved 2018-03-09.
  3. ^ a b c "1996 Olympic Torch Relay At a Glance". Washington Post. Retrieved October 7, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b c d e "Olympic Games Atlanta 1996". Olympic-Museum.de. Archived from the original on October 23, 2013. Retrieved October 7, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b c d Johnson, Dirk (May 26, 1996). "15,000-Mile Olympic Torch Route Gives Lots of People Reasons to FeelGood". The New York Times. Retrieved October 7, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b c d "The Official Report of the Centennial Olympic Games Volume II" (PDF). The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. pp. 14–53. Retrieved October 7, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ Pearlman, Robert Z. (April 23, 2013). "Cosmonauts May Carry Olympic Torch and 'Flame' on Spacewalk". Space.com. Retrieved October 8, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ "NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project". NASA. Retrieved October 8, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ "STS-78 crew holds up Olympic torch at SLF". V Like Vintage. Archived from the original on October 8, 2013. Retrieved October 8, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ "Olympic Torch makes journey to International Space Station". Olympic News. 7 November 2013. Retrieved 15 November 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Hong, Peter Y. (January 31, 1996). "Teacher to Carry Olympic Torch : Compton educator, nominated by one of her eighth-grade students, is first in Southland to be chosen for the honor". LA Times. Retrieved October 12, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ a b c "The Official Report of the Centennial Olympic Games Volume II" (PDF). The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. pp. 68–69, 132. Retrieved October 7, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ a b Weinberg, Rick. "8: Ali lights the flame at the 1996 Olympics". ESPN. Retrieved October 8, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ Thornburgh, Tristan (July 19, 2013). "On Today's Date: Muhammad Ali Lights the Torch at the 1996 Olympics". Bleacher Report. Retrieved October 7, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ Luckhurst, Samuel (May 31, 2012). "London 2012 Olympics Countdown: Muhammad Ali Prompts Tears At Atlanta 1996". Huffington Post. Retrieved October 8, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)