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These 5 cauldron lightings were the the most memorable in opening ceremony Olympic history

What will Tokyo do for its cauldron lighting?

Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo of Spain aims a flaming arrow to light the Olympic Cauldron 1992 Barcelona Olympics. (Photograph by David Madison)
Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo of Spain aims a flaming arrow to light the Olympic Cauldron 1992 Barcelona Olympics. (Photograph by David Madison) (Getty Images)

Japan, it’s your turn to see if you can outdo other host countries in terms of the most memorable cauldron lighting at the opening ceremony of an Olympics.

Much like everything else in sports and the Olympics, the way the cauldron is lit to officially open the Games has evolved over the years.

It has gone from a simple lighting with a torch, to running up a giant flight of steps to reach a cauldron and light the flame, to coming up with new and creative ways to make the world ooh and ahh over what exactly took place.

While the world speculates on what Japan might do, here are five cauldron lightings that have stood out the most in Olympic history.


5. The greatest of all-time emerges (Atlanta 1996)

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, a gold medal winner at the 1960 Summer Olympics when his name was Cassius Clay, holds up the Olympic torch prior to lighting a device that would carry the flame up the cauldron during the opening ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta on July 19, 1996. (Michael Cooper/Getty Images)

This lighting wasn’t necessarily creative in the way it was done, but it was more about who did it and how that person was revealed.

One of the world’s most beloved figures, Muhammad Ali, emerged from the shadows as a surprise cauldron lighter for the Atlanta Summer Games. Despite being plagued by Parkinson’s disease and the fact he threw his gold medal won at the 1960 Rome Olympics into a river to protest racism in the United States, Ali took the torch from swimmer Janet Evans and lit a tiny “rocket” that carried the flame up a cord and to the cauldron.

For many, it was the signature moment of the Atlanta Olympics, and one of the most vivid images in Olympic history. Later on in the games, Ali was given a replacement gold medal by the International Olympic Committee.

To view the lighting on YouTube, click or tap here.


4. Lighting through water (Sydney 2000)

Australian Olympic athlete Cathy Freeman ignites the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics on Sept. 15, 2000, at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney. (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

Water sports are huge in Australia, so it was fitting that water was incorporated into the cauldron lighting that was performed by track star Cathy Freeman. Standing in a pool of water with a fountain in the backdrop, Freeman placed the torch in the pool as a circular platform carrying a ring of fire emerged from it.

Carrying the torch on top and showering water underneath it, the platform then climbed to the top of the stadium toward the cauldron.

To view the lighting on YouTube, click or tap here.


3. Walking on air (Beijing 2008)

The Summer Olympics begin in Beijing, China. The ceremony is noted for its focus on ancient Chinese culture and for its creativity, as well as being the first to use weather modification technology to prevent rainfall. The final ascent to the torch featured Olympic gymnast Li Ning, who used a harness and cables to appear as though to be running through air around the membrane of the stadium. (Tim Hipps/U.S. Army via Wikimedia Commons)

Chinese gymnast Li Ning was probably used to high-wire acts in his sport, but this took it to a historic level. The person chosen to light the cauldron at the Beijing Summer Games, Ning was hoisted to the top of the stadium via wires and pretended to walk on air as he circled the top of the stadium with the torch.

As he went around the stadium, video highlights of the torch relay in China showed up behind him. Ning eventually stopped and lit a metal rope that carried the torch to the cauldron.

To view the lighting on YouTube, click or tap here.


2. Ski jump with a torch (Lillehammer 1994)

Stein Gruben starts his descent with the Olympic torch during the XVII Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway. (Photo by Bob Martin) (Getty Images)

The actual cauldron lighting at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway was as basic as can be, with Norway Crown Prince Haakon Magnus stretching the torch above the cauldron, but it was the way it got there moments earlier that wowed the world.

Ski jumping is a passion in Norway, and they decided to deliver the torch near the cauldron through that method.

Stein Gruben, a fill-in after the original jumper injured himself during a test run two days earlier, took the torch from the top of a ski jump, went down the ramp and proceeded on a 70-meter jump with the torch in his right hand. Gruben landed safely and handed the torch to Paralympian Cathrine Hazen Ingnes, who then relayed it to the Crown Prince.

To view the lighting on YouTube, click or tap here.


1. Bull’s-eye arrow shot (Barcelona 1992)

Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo of Spain aims a flaming arrow to light the Olympic Cauldron 1992 Barcelona Olympics. (Photograph by David Madison) (Getty Images)

Not only will it be hard for the Japanese to top this, but it’s difficult to imagine any host country in the future being able to outdo the cauldron lighting for the Barcelona Summer Games.

Organizers had the idea to light the torch by having an archer fire a flaming arrow over the cauldron, which would light up as the arrow passed by.

Antonio Rebollo, a Spanish Paralympian, was chosen out of a field of 200 archers to be the one to shoot the arrow.

Standing in the middle of the packed stadium, Rebollo took a flame on the tip of his arrow from Spanish basketball player Juan Antonio San Epifanio and aimed the arrow toward the cauldron at the top of the stadium.

Rebollo flung the arrow on a perfect line with the cauldron, which had gas lines in it to help ignite the flame once it flew past.

If the arrow was too high or low, it would have missed the gas line.

But Rebollo’s shot was perfect, creating what many feel is the most memorable cauldron lighting ever.

The arrow landed harmlessly outside of the stadium, the cauldron was lit, and Rebollo became a legend for his calmness under indescribable pressure.

Rebollo said to paralympic.org that he worked for a year with a sophrology specialist to train his body and mind to be calm in the moment.

“Sophrology helps you avoid any potential distractions and to keep yourself fully focused on the target,” Rebollo said. “Being like a machine was the secret of the success. The following day, I started to realize what I had done, because I was called from many TV shows and everybody congratulated me in the streets.”

To view the lighting on YouTube, click or tap here.

To look at cauldron lightings from every Summer Olympics on YouTube, click or tap here.


What was your favorite Olympic cauldron lighting? Was it one not on this list? Let us know in the comments below.


About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.