Written by | Ray Cornelius

Upon first learning that boxing great Muhammad Ali had passed away on Friday evening, I immediately thought about the Olympic cauldron that he lit for Atlanta’s 1996 Summer Games. The historic structure is literally within walking distance of my home and stands at the corner of Fulton Street and Hank Aaron Drive.  Like so many residents in the Mechanicsville and Summerhill neighborhoods where it stands, I too have passed by it hundreds of times but never really paid much attention to it until now.


The Olympic cauldron for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games

The cauldron was first used during the opening ceremony of the games and who better than to set it ablaze that year than Muhammad Ali. By this time, the boxing champion had already retired from the ring but was fighting a different kind of opponent—Parkinson’s Disease. But that didn’t seem to stop “the greatest of all time.” Ali stood there boldly as he had done so many times before. His image was a sight to see at the time and one that many of us would never forget.

So, when I found out about his passing, I thought of him and that historic night.  However, it wasn’t until I was talking to my co-workers about his death that one of them pointed out that I have been “living in the shadow of greatness and didn’t even know it.” That’s when it all hit me and I realized that this monsterous structure was more than just something of the past but it represented numerous possibilities for me and every other person living around it. Like Ali, the cauldron symbolized purpose, power and perseverance. I now wondered for the first time if any of my other neighbors knew that such greatness was within our reach.


The Olympic cauldron is literally within walking distance from my community

Taking that into consideration, I thought it was fitting to visit the cauldron one more time in honor of Ali’s memory. So I decided to walk and take pictures of it in comparison to my complex that sits at the corner of Fulton and Pryor Streets.

When I finally reached the cauldron, I noticed that someone had placed a potted flower with an American flag at its base. There were also a pair of Everlast gloves hanging from the railing above, much like a pair of sneakers dangling from neighborhood power lines. I also noticed for the first time that a plaque sits in the middle of the cauldron with the images of William Porter Payne and Ambassador Andrew Young, the two men who were instrumental in bringing the Olympic Games to Atlanta. Behind the plaque is a wall of fame with all of the Olympic player’s names on it and their respective areas of competition. Again I thought to myself, “who knew this was here and why had I never paid it any attention?”


A plaque with images of William Porter Payne and Ambassador Andrew Young

After a few more pics and a moment of silence for Ali, I decided to walk back home. On my way there, I wondered how many steps there were between my home and the cauldron. So I decided to start from the beginning of my condo complex and walk all the way back to the cauldron, counting each step. If I was this close to greatness, I wanted to know the exact number.

As I approached the cauldron for the second time, I noticed that a news reporter was setting up to do a story. She and her camera man were looking at me and I was looking at them hoping not to get distracted and lose count of my steps. She tried getting my attention but I held my hand up and stopped her from interrupting my count.  “800,” I said to her.  “I am 800 steps from greatness.” Of course she was interested in what that all meant and well, the rest is history!

Take a look at my photos below as well as the moment Ali lit the cauldron.

Click here to see the story WSB-TV did on my 800 steps to greatness.


The Olympic cauldron is 800 steps away from my City Side Lofts Community


The Olympic cauldron sits on the corner of Fulton St. and Hank Aaron Drive


The cauldron was moved from its original site to its current site after the Olympics


The Atlanta Games will celebrate its 20th Anniversary this July


A pair of boxing gloves hang from a beam as a tribute to Muhammad Ali


There’s also a potted flower sitting at the base of the cauldron in honor of Ali


The view from the bottom of the cauldron


The Olympic Wall of Fame featuring the names of every competing athlete


The view of the Olympic cauldron from the Braves Parking Lot

Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com