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Let There Be Light

Courtesy of Li Ning

By

Let There Be Light
Julian Finney / Getty Images
Leading up to the opening ceremony, the identity of the final Chinese torch-bearer, the one to light the Olympic Flame, was kept hidden. Anticipation soared and speculation abounded. And how would they light the flame? In Barcelona, an archer shot a burning arrow over the cauldron, igniting it. In Atlanta, Muhammad Ali appeared atop the stadium to light the flame. Towering over the crowd in Beijing, Yao Ming was an obvious candidate for the task, but he had been the flag bearer for the Chinese procession. Instead, the most populous nation on earth tapped perhaps its greatest Olympic hero, Li Ning.

In 1960, when Taiwan became officially recognized, China backed out of Olympic competition. The nation did not rejoin the Games until 1984, amid the Warsaw Bloc's boycott of the Los Angeles Games, and it was during these Olympics that Li Ning became a national hero. His win of the men’s all-around competition in gymnastics, one of China’s favorite sports, signaled the nation's grand return to Olympic competition.

Twenty-four years later, Li Ning was raised to the scrim running around the top of the Bird's Nest and circumnavigated the open roof of the stadium, torch in hand, until he reach the cauldron and proudly lit his nation's Olympic Flame.

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