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Janet Evans throws it back to 1996 Olympics in powerful Muhammad Ali tribute

Passing the torch at the Olympic opening ceremonies is an unforgettable experience in itself.

Passing the torch to Muhammad Ali, aka The Greatest? That is a life-defining moment, right there.

Janet Evans, the swimmer who memorably handed off the Olympic flame to a Parkinson's-stricken Ali at the 1996 Olympic Games, was one of the many athletes to pay respects to The Champ via Twitter.

"Forever the greatest, forever my hero," Evans wrote. "Thank you #Ali for inspiring us all to be champions."

Related: Muhammad Ali’s daughter, Laila Ali, honors her father's life and legacy

For many — including Evans — the exchange between her and Ali was especially symbolic. The 1960 boxing champion was already showing signs of physical debilitation from Parkinson's in 1996, and his vulnerable choice to appear in less-than-fighting shape sent a powerful message: Once a champion, always a champion.

"My moment with him was brief," Evans told NBC Sports. "But that moment for me, standing there, watching this man, with his courage and his determination, and being brought into the Olympic fold once again, 36 years after his gold medal in 1960. And to stand there in front of the world and inspire even more young people like myself, to be and do and accomplish anything we want to do, it was an epiphany for me."

"It was a defining moment in my Olympic career," she said.

Related: From Madonna to J.K. Rowling, celebrities mourn the death of Muhammad Ali

Ali was an inspiration in so many ways, and we loved this trip down memory lane. Thank you for sharing, Janet!

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Flashback: Watch Matt Lauer talk about personal hero Muhammad Ali in 2013

Play Video - 5:00

Flashback: Watch Matt Lauer talk about personal hero Muhammad Ali in 2013

Play Video - 5:00

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