Dec. 7, 2001
PULLMAN, Wash. -- Washington State University track and field head coach Rick Sloan and volunteer assistant coach Dan O'Brien, were among the first people to carry the Olympic torch as it began its 46-city American tour Tuesday morning, Dec. 4.
Sloan and O'Brien were at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia, when Muhammad Ali started the symbolic flame on a cross country journey that will end at the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
The flame, accompanied by freestyle skier Nikki Stone, arrived in Atlanta after an 11-hour flight from Athens, Greece. Bill Spencer, a biathlete, carried the flame off the plane. Olympic speed skating medallist Bonnie Blair and her mother transported the flame to Centennial Olympic Park where the ceremonial caldron was lit and Ali's torch was ignited.
Figure skater Perry Fleming and her former coach and Olympian Robert Paul, carried the flame on the first leg of its journey, through the park. Fleming lit the torch of O'Brien, an Olympic decathlon champion, and his coach, Sloan. After a brief run, O'Brien lit the torch of Billy Payne, the head of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics committee.
The torch relay to Salt Lake City will involve 11,500 people, passing the flame among three-pound torches along the 13,500 miles from Atlanta to Utah before the February 8 start of the Winter Olympic Games.
Sloan finished seventh in the decathlon at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, and in addition to his coaching duties at WSU, coaches O'Brien, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics decathlon champion and three-time world champion.