SPIRIT OF '96 ON THE FOLLOWING 25 PAGES, SI WRITERS TELL OF THEIR CHOICES FOR THE MOST COMPELLING PEOPLE AND THE MOST STIRRING MOMENTS OF THE YEAR IN SPORTS, STARTING WITH THE SUMMER'S BIGGEST SURPRISE ALL TOO HUMAN

December 30, 1996

Moment of the Year, 1996? Ali, of course. Ali emerging from the
darkness, from the past, from the recesses of our imagination.
Ali, a ghost in white, materializing after midnight to accept
the flaming torch high on a ledge in Olympic Stadium during the
opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Games. The massive crowd
rising, straining to see who would have the honor of lighting
the cauldron, and then crying "Whooooaaa" in astonishment, the
"Whooooaaa" washing into a "Whoop," a hands-to-the-sky
celebration.

How much finer than the other fine moments? As much as Michael
Johnson finished ahead of the field in the 200-meter
final--that's how much finer. First because of the surprise, the
most known face on the planet showing up at the most unexpected
instant. But more so because it was loaded, this simple moment,
loaded with so much more meaning than anything a man could do in
any game or any race.

For here was the perfect counterpoint to all the power and youth
and majesty assembled on the field below. Everything around Ali,
everything that would unfold in the following 2 1/2 weeks, would
sell and smell of limitlessness, of dreaming the dream. And
there stood Ali, saying, Yes, it can be that, but, no, it's
never just that...by saying nothing. By simply standing there,
alone, the torch shaking in his hands, the former gold medalist
and heavyweight champion struggling to accomplish a moment's
stillness.

As he strained to light the world's largest wick with the
world's largest matchstick, it became clear: Every grand human
event, every instance of pomp and ceremony, should have its
aging man with Parkinson's syndrome, its reminder of change and
frailty--not to file the sharp and shiny edges off of the
spectacle but to permit the experience to achieve its truest
roundness.

Moment of the Year, 1996? You take the sudden and the swift, the
whooshes and the swooshes. I'll take the trembling still life.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER [Muhammad Ali holding Olympic torch]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)