Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rafer Johnson 25 Years Later

As noted recently, the LA Sports Council hosted a gala LA84 XXV celebration of the Olympiad and city "that saved the Olympic Games," according to former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Today (July 28) marks the "official" anniversary of the spectacular kick-off to those Games -- yes, 25 years ago tonight I was glued to the TV as ABC broadcast David Wolper's masterpiece opening for the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad. The LA Times has a great series on the anniversary featured for the next few days, and a gala gallery of attending Olympians. USA Today's Christine Brennan also reported on the silver anniversary of LA's second Olympic host stint.

There were dozens of "moments" that night: The biggest card trick of all time, the "Rocketman" flyover, 84 grand pianos appearing out of nowhere, and the debut of John Williams' outstanding Olympic fanfare are highlights.
But it was Rafer Johnson's ascent to ignite the Olympic Cauldron that captivated me most. Bill Dwire really tells the tale well in the LA Times features.

I was extremely lucky to speak with Mr. Johnson inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on July 18 at the gala (see video) and witness his encore lighting of the cauldron.

Off camera, when asked his level of nervousness in the moment climbing the stairs, Johnson and I happened to be at the base of that stairway, and he looked up it, smiled and said there were countless, incredible emotions before and since that night and iconic moment in 1984, but that one thing relieved him at the gala.

"I was nervous. And looking up these stairs again, one thing is certain: I am happy not to have to run up them again tonight!"

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