Page last updated at 21:27 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 22:27 UK

Spain salutes Samaranch's legacy

By Phil Minshull
BBC Sport, Madrid

Former International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch, and his wife Maria, file photo from 1999
Samaranch has been described as one of Spain's most influential men

Spain is mourning the death of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the man that put Spanish sport, and to a certain extent Spain itself, on the global map.

The former International Olympic Committee [IOC] president, who led the movement for 21 years until he stood down in 2001, died on Wednesday.

There has been no real sense of shock. He was, after all, a frail old man of 89.

In his own words, when he spoke to support Madrid's bid to host the 2016 Olympics last October, he said: "I know that I am very near the end of my time."

However, there has been a widespread sense of national bereavement.

"This news, while expected, is no less painful," said Spanish Secretary of State for Sport Jaime Lissavetzky.

'Huge loss'

For many Spaniards, it was Samaranch's delivery of the Olympics to Barcelona in 1992 that finally restored their sense of national pride after the decades of being shunned, as the last country in western Europe under a dictatorship until the death of Francisco Franco in 1975.


His achievements as the IOC president had a global impact but it was bringing the Olympics to the city of his birth, and death, that touched people at home.

"It's a huge loss, not only for Spain," said the Barcelona 1500m Olympic medallist Fermin Cacho. "The entire Olympic world should be extremely grateful for him bringing the Games to Spain in 1992.

"Being Olympic champion is a huge satisfaction, but becoming a champion in your own country is enormous and I owe all that to him," added the runner, whose euphoric gesture as he crossed the line 18 years ago became one of the defining images of the Games.

Prior the 1992 Olympics, Spain's triumphs in international sport, apart from on the football field, were few and often far between.


However, a flurry of gold medals in Barcelona proved to be the spur for the current generation of the country's leading sportsmen and women, like tennis player Rafa Nadal, former Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso or NBA superstar Pau Gasol.

The IOC flag, left, flies at half-mast in front of the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, 21 April 2010
Samaranch's achievements as the IOC president had a global impact

"Reaching the summit of the Olympics, he was an entrepreneur, journalist, politician and diplomat, who became one of the world's most influential Spaniards," wrote Spain's leading mainstream paper El Pais on its website shortly after Samaranch's death was announced.

"Catalans will always remember him as a forerunner and who, more than anybody, contributed to the Olympic Games being held in Barcelona in 1992," said Barcelona football club's president, Joan Laporta - generous words from a man who was at the other end of the Spanish political spectrum from Samaranch.

In Spain, there continues to be little reference to the issues that caused him to be a sometimes controversial figure in other parts of Europe, such as his membership of the Falange, the fascist movement which supported Franco, or the IOC scandals that marred his last years in office.

Many of his obituaries in Spain have preferred to gloss over, or even forget, these matters.

Spain, instead, is preferring to remember Samaranch as, according to Mr Lissavetzky "a global reference point for sport, an innovator, a man ahead of his time".

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