This week in Duke history: Olympic torch travels to Durham

It was a day of remarkable pride for city, country—and university.

On June 23, 1996, Duke track and field head coach Al Buehler reunited with former N.C. Central head coach LeRoy Walker to light the Olympic cauldron twice in Durham on its way to Atlanta for the Summer Olympics the following month. Buehler stood for more than a minute with the torch in front of the Duke Chapel, greeted by more than a thousand onlookers and "with the chapel bells playing the Olympics' theme song," according to The Chronicle.

The torch came to Durham at the request of Walker, who was then president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and had been the Eagles' head coach for 28 years from 1945 to 1974. He and Buehler developed a relationship during Buehler’s 60 years at Duke, as the Blue Devil coach let N.C. Central's all-black team practice at Duke’s track in the midst of racial segregation in the United States.

Buehler's accomplishments, in fact, are quite many. He drove Tommie Smith and John Carlos back from the Olympic Village to the airport at the 1968 Games after they were kicked out of the residential area following their historic Black Power salute for their respective first- and third-place finishes in the 200-meter dash.

Buehler was a coach or manager with Team USA at the 1972, 1984 and 1988 Olympics, and he coached 17 Blue Devils to All-American selections as head coach. The running trail around the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club is named after him.

Buehler also taught classes as a faculty member, and is widely considered as one of the best educators Duke has seen. “Al Buehler is the best teacher-coach in intercollegiate sports,” Blue Devil men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said in 2012.

Buehler's life was documented in a critically-acclaimed 2011 documentary produced by Grant Hill, “The Coach Buehler Story." Even after watching the movie, it would be hard for one to imagine a moment sweeter than how Buehler felt on the morning of June 23, 1996.

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