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Enriqueta Basilio, first woman to light Olympic cauldron, dies at 71

Norma Enriqueta Basilio Lighting Olympic Fire

(Original Caption) A Feminine First. Mexico City: Mexico’s Norma Enriqueta Basilio, the first woman in the history of the modern Olympic Games to light the Olympic Fire, runs up the ninety steps with the Olympic Torch during the opening ceremonies here October 12, 1968.

Bettmann Archive

Enriqueta Basilio, who at the 1968 Mexico City Games became the first woman to light an Olympic cauldron, died Saturday at age 71, according to Mexico’s Olympic Committee.

Basilio was 20 years old when she lit the cauldron in the Opening Ceremony at her home nation’s first Olympics. She later was eliminated in the heats of the 400m, 80m hurdles and the 4x100m relay.

Basilio later took part in the 2004 Athens Olympic torch relay when it visited Mexico City. Last year, she symbolically relit the Olympic cauldron in Mexico City to mark the 50th anniversary of those Games.

Basilio and Australian Cathy Freeman (Sydney 2000) remain the only women to be the sole cauldron lighters at a Summer Olympics.

Though cauldron lighters are now closely guarded secrets, it was reported three months before the Mexico City Games that Basilio would receive the honor.

Back in 1968, Basilio reportedly shrugged when asked why she thought she was chosen.

“Maybe it’s because here in Mexico the mens and the womens have the same rights,” she said through a translator, according to The New York Times. “Maybe it’s because she comes from Baja California, the youngest state in the country. And maybe it’s because some people says she represents the typical Mexican type, a new kind of generation. The new Mexico youth is tall, more thin. The last generation was short, more fat.”