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From the night the Centennial Olympics began--when Muhammad Ali,
his right arm shuddering from the effects of Parkinson's
disease, steadily lit the flame with his left--the Summer Games
played out like a Disney movie, offering up scene after stirring
scene of underdog overachievement. But that idyll received a
jolt at 1:25 on the morning of July 27, when a crudely fashioned
pipe bomb went off in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. The
toll was numbing: two dead (a woman from Albany, Ga., and a
Turkish cameraman who suffered a heart attack rushing to the
scene), 111 wounded and 197 nations outraged, confused and

The Games went on; they had to if the painful memory was to be
overcome. So the triumphs that followed--Kerri Strug's vaulting
the U.S. to gymnastics gold on a severely sprained ankle,
Michael Johnson's becoming the first man to win both the
200-meter and 400-meter dashes and Dan O'Brien's exorcising the
demons of his failure to qualify for the '92 Games by striking
gold in the decathlon--were more than just testaments to the
Olympic spirit. They were testaments to the cathartic power of

Atlanta was not the only place in which athletes persevered in
the face of adversity in 1996. Monica Seles and Pete Sampras
each won a Grand Slam tennis title: Seles's, in the Australian
Open, was her first Grand Slam victory since being stabbed on
court three years earlier; Sampras's, at the U.S. Open, came
four months after the death of his coach, Tim Gullikson, from
brain cancer. And in the Bronx, recovering addict Dwight Gooden
pitched a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners in May and
helped the New York Yankees to their first world championship in
18 years.

But the event that best summed up the year in sports occurred on
Nov. 9, in Las Vegas. On that fall evening Evander Holyfield
beat Mike Tyson to win the world heavyweight title for the third
time, joining Ali as the only men to do so. The odds against
Holyfield were as long as 25 to 1; he had lost three of his
previous seven fights; and many questioned his heart, in which
doctors, two years before, had detected a ventricular
irregularity. But the challenger erased all doubts in the 11th
round with a stunning TKO that underscored this lesson: In 1996,
to be a champion was to overcome. And Holyfield was just one of
many athletes who displayed the heart of a champion.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Child looking through net--T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBA PHOTOS [Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen hugging--T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS [Roberto Alomar, Davy Jones, and John Hirschbeck--T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES [Race car engulfed in flames--T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO [Runners starting race--T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: WILL HART [Blood on face of boxer Christy Martin--T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN [Pete Sampras playing tennis--T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: BARTON SILVERMAN/NEW YORK TIMES [Dwight Gooden on shoulders of New York Yankees teammates--T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: MELZER/BONGARTS [Miami Dolphins fan with painted face wearing team pins and insignias--T of C]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER READ MILLER [Muhammad Ali holding Olympic torch]