Danny Boyle and his cast of thousands will officially kick off the London Olympics on Friday night at Olympic Stadium with what promises to be another memorable opening ceremony.

But no amount of performers, high-tech devices and multi-million dollar props can outshine the human element of an event that pours national pride throughout its participants and those watching around the world.

In one of the most unforgettable opening ceremony moments ever, legendary American boxing champion Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic cauldron to mark the start of the 1996 Atlanta Games. Stricken with debilitating Parkinson’s disease, the former gold medalist and boxing icon hoisted the torch as he would a championship belt. It was a scene both poignant and powerful, and one that personified both the spirit of the Games and of its host nation.

London organizers may try to recreate some of that magic by including the 70-year-old in Friday’s show. The Telegraph reported earlier this month that Boyle was considering asking the man known as “The Greatest” to play a role and followed up on still-swirling rumors by reporting Tuesday that Ali “seems certain to appear” in some capacity. Ali flew to London for a few charity engagements this week and the Guardian reports both he and English football icon David Beckham “appear increasingly likely to play a role.”

Boyle and fellow organizers have tried, although mostly in vain, to keep the full details of Friday’s ceremony secret. About 40,000 people witnessed Monday’s dress rehearsal of the $42 million production, and their responses through social media were mostly positive.


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