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There were roughly 3,600 runners who, in 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) segments over 82 days, carried the Olympic torch from New York to Los Angeles in 1984. But none looked as good as then-37-year-old O.J. Simpson, who at 10 a.m. on July 21 was handed the flame on the Pacific Coast Highway.
His section was Santa Monica’s steep California Incline, which he ascended effortlessly — bounded up, really, his feet high above the ground like an athlete-god — smiling to spectators with the two-pound torch held aloft. “You don’t want to drop it; you don’t want to fall down,” says 1960 decathlon gold medalist Rafer Johnson, who, as the final torch relay participant, lit the cauldron to open the Games. “It’s tense when you have to do something that needs to be absolutely right.”
Running a few steps behind Simpson was his 25-year-old girlfriend at the time, Nicole Brown. They’d been dating seven years and would marry eight months later. (Nearly a decade after that, she’d be murdered; Simpson would be accused, then acquitted.) “Every time I thought I was getting tired going up that hill, I would hear the crowd’s cheering, and that would keep me going,” Simpson later said. The image would appear on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. Other famous local runners included Jane Fonda, Muhammad Ali and Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn Jenner). L.A. currently is one of four cities in the running to host the 2024 Summer Games.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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