Barcelona: The Inspiration for any Olympic host city after 1992 | Sunday Observer

Barcelona: The Inspiration for any Olympic host city after 1992

24 January, 2021
Then Prince, now King of Spain, Philip VI leads the Spanish Olympic team as the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony
Then Prince, now King of Spain, Philip VI leads the Spanish Olympic team as the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony

The 1992 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XXV Olympiad were held in Barcelona, the hometown of then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, from July 25 to August 9, 1992. The Games were opened by King Juan Carlos I of Spain and his son, then His Royal Highness Prince Philip led the Spanish Team at the Athletes’ Parade. Later, on June 19, 2014, Prince Philip ascended the throne as Philip VI, upon the abdication of his father as the King of Spain. Today, Barcelona has sprung to fame as one of the world’s foremost sports cities.

For the first time since 1972, the Barcelona ‘92 Summer Olympic Games were boycott-free, due to important global political changes. All 169 member nations of the IOC competed, which resulted in the highest number of participating countries in the history of Olympic Games. After the disintegration of Soviet Union, twelve former Soviet states fielded as a “Unified Team,” while others such as Estonia and Lithuania fielded their own teams for the first time since Berlin Olympics of 1936. Former Yugoslavian territories Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia participated under their own flags for the first time. South Africa, which was banned in 1960 for its racist apartheid policy, participated in the Olympics for the first time as well.

The Unified Team topped the medals table, winning 45 gold medals. The United States accounted for 37 gold medals whilst Germany secured 33 gold medals. The host nation, Spain won 13 gold, seven silver and two bronze medals to take the sixth position. A total of 9,356 athletes - 2,704 women and 6,652 men took part. The games featured 25 sports under 34 disciplines in 257 medal events. A total of 34,548 volunteers facilitated the smooth conduct of the games while 13,082 media personnel reported the games.

Barcelona 1992 Olympics and Highlights

Barcelona is the second-largest city in Spain and the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia. The city was also a host for the 1982 FIFA World Cup. In 1986, Barcelona was chosen to host the 1992 Summer Olympics over Amsterdam, Belgrade, Birmingham, Brisbane and Paris. With 85 out of 89 members of the IOC voting by secret ballot, Barcelona won a majority of 47 votes. Samaranch abstained from voting. Barcelona had previously bid for the 1936 Summer Olympics, which were held in Berlin.

At the opening ceremony, Greek mezzo-soprano Agnes Baltsa sang “Romiossini” as the Olympic Flag was paraded around the stadium. Alfredo Kraus later sang the Olympic Hymn in Catalan, Spanish and French, as the flag was hoisted. The Olympic Cauldron was ignited using a flaming arrow, lit from the flame of the Olympic Torch. It was shot by Paralympic Archer, Antonio Rebollo, who aimed the arrow over the top of the cauldron to ignite the gas emanating from it. The arrow landed outside the stadium. This unusual method for lighting the cauldron had been carefully designed to avoid any chance of the arrow landing in the stadium if Rebollo missed his target.

Cacho dazzles for the King and the Country

The 23-year year old Spaniard Fermin Cacho Ruiz stood on the start line for the 1500m final in Barcelona with nothing to lose. Back in 1992 he was not the World or Olympic Champion and he had not even clocked the fastest time in the world that year. His personal best for the distance was 3.32.03. In fact, Cacho, from the town of Agreda in the Province of Soria in Northern Spain, was not remotely favoured to claim the Olympic title. This time, however, Fermín would be running in front of his home crowd, not to mention his King, Juan Carlos I.

Cacho won his heat and second place in his semi-final earned him a spot in the final. Starting on the inside lane, Cacho broke to the front of the pack in the first few metres. Boxed in, although at the front of the pack, he maintained a steady pace and managed to avoid tripping in the confined space he found. It had been a slow race and that suited Cacho, who seized his moment with just 300m remaining. A space opened up in front of him and he nipped into it, taking the lead as the race entered the final 200m.

Once out in front, no one would catch him. The sound of the crowd and thoughts of Olympic glory in his mind, Cacho even pulled away from the rest of the field despite expecting at any moment to see another runner appearing over his shoulder. Arms raised high above his head, Fermin Cacho Ruiz crossed the finish line to claim the Olympic gold medal - Spain’s first ever Olympic gold in a running event for the King and the Country!

Scherbo, the greatest male gymnast of all time

20-year Vitaly Scherbo, competing under the banner of the Unified Team, scored 9.9 on the parallel bars, the rings and the pommel horse and 9.8 on the vault. An all-round total of 59.025 points gave him a fifth title with the team gold bringing his total to an unprecedented six of the available eight gymnastic gold medals. That’s more titles at a single Games than any other gymnast in Olympic history. Scherbo’s achievement also included a remarkable four gold’s in a single day, part of a total career tally of ten Olympic medals.

Seven-year old Scherbo was taken to gymnastic classes by his mother in an attempt to channel her young son’s huge energy. Coaches at his local club recognized his abilities and arranged for a place at a Belarus state boarding school for talented athletes. There young Scherbo delighted and infuriated his tutors in equal measure, making huge progress as a gymnast but refusing to submit to disciplines imposed on him. The self-styled ‘bad boy of gymnastics’ went to the Barcelona Games.

Scherbo turned up at Atlanta 1996 Games having failed, by his own admission, to have put in the hours of necessary preparation due to personal reasons. He still won four bronze medals, in the horizontal bars, the parallel bars, the vault and, finally, the all-round gymnastics competition. In 2009, Scherbo was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, described as arguably the greatest male gymnast of all time.

Home Gold for Spanish football

Almost one hundred thousand spectators filled the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona to watch the host nation take on Poland for an Olympic gold medal in football. Wojciech Kowalczyk of Poland scored the opening goal of the game just before half time, but Abelardo Fernandez equalized with a goal for the host nation after half time.

Spain’s King Juan Carlos I, was all smiles alongside fellow Spaniard and IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, when Spain went 2-1 up. Francisco Miguel Narvaez Machon, better known as ‘Kiko’, scored twice in the last 18 minutes of the match to land the host nation a famous 3-2 victory and Team Gold.

Having automatically qualified for the tournament as the host nation, the Spanish team proved its right to compete alongside the world’s best, finishing unbeaten and top of Olympic Group B ahead of Qatar, Egypt and Colombia. Spain scored fourteen goals in total, the very first against Colombia came from Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola, a name soon to be synonymous with winning in the Catalan Capital.

The Football tournament at the 1992 summer Olympic Games in Barcelona was the first Under-23 competition of its kind, although football had been included as a sport in almost every Olympic Games since 1896.

Linford Christie goes sub-10

Linford Christie, born in Saint Andrew, Jamaica was brought up by his grandmother until the age of seven, when he followed his parents to England. Educated at Henry Compton Secondary School in Fulham, West London, young Linford excelled at all sports but left school at the age of 16. Coached by Ron Roddan, Christie did not begin sprinting seriously until he was 19.

Seoul 1988 gave Christie his first opportunity to claim an Olympic title, but he came up against tough opposition. Johnson won 100m, only later to be stripped of his title and disqualified after testing positive for a banned anabolic steroid. Christie, who crossed the line third in a time of 9.97 was awarded the silver. He also ran in 4x100m relay team and picked up another silver medal.

Coming out of the Barcelona 100m final starting blocks at the age of 32, Christie pulled away from a ‘who’s who’ of famous sprinting names to claim his first Olympic title in a time of 9.96. Christie’s gold made him the oldest Olympic 100m Champion by a good four years.

He beat Frankie Fredericks of Namibia into second place and Dennis Mitchell of America into third. Christie was the only man to go under ten seconds in the final.

Atlanta 1996, four years later proved a dreadful let-down for Christie who was determined to defend his title. In a shock upset Christie was disqualified on the day of the final after two false starts. One hundred thousand spectators in the stadium and millions across the globe missed the opportunity to see if Christie still had what it took to win Olympic gold at the age of 36.

Memorable Moments at Barcelona ‘92

The most memorable moments at Barcelona ’92 included American Carl Lewis’ third consecutive gold medal in the long jump and American Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s second consecutive heptathlon victory.

On the 20th anniversary of the Munich massacre and the 500th anniversary of the Alhambra Decree, Yael Arad became the first Israeli to win an Olympic medal, winning a silver medal in judo. The following day, Oren Smadja became Israel’s first male medalist, winning a bronze in the same sport.

Indonesia won its first-ever gold medal in Badminton through Susi Susanti who won the women’s singles after defeating Bang Soo-hyun in the final. Alan Budikusuma won the badminton men’s singles competition, earning a second gold medal for Indonesia. Several years later, Susanti and Budikusuma married and she received nicknames Golden Bride and Olympic Bride.

US men’s basketball team, nicknamed the Dream Team was one of the most anticipated performances of the Olympics. Star players like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley competed alongside 11 other NBA All-Stars and Duke University standout Christian Laettner. Needless to say they dominated the event and won gold.

Deratu Tulu of Ethopia, winner of the 10,000m created history. She was the first-ever black woman to win an Olympic medal. In the last lap of the 10,000m final, Derartu Tulu darted into the lead and went on to win. At the finishing line, she waited for her opponent Elana Meyer, a white South African. She did a victory lap dance with Elana to celebrate South Africa’s recent abolishment of apartheid and as a symbolic gesture of African unity.

New Sports and Young Achievers

Baseball debuted as a full medal discipline having appeared as an exhibition or demonstration sport at six previous Games. Badminton and women’s judo were also added to the Olympic programme. Slalom Canoeing returned to the Games after a 20-year absence. Roller hockey, Basque Pelota and taekwondo were all demonstrated at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

Spain’s coxswain in the eights, 11-year Carlos Front, became the youngest Olympic competitor since 1900. Chinese diver, Fu Mingxia, aged 13, became one of the youngest Olympic gold medalists of all time. In women’s 200m breaststroke, Kyoko Iwasaki of Japan won a gold medal at age of 14 years and six days, making her the youngest-ever gold medalist in swimming competitions at the Olympics. Jennifer Capriati won the singles tennis competition at the age of 16. The 17-year Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary won three individual swimming gold medals, becoming the only female athlete at the Olympic Games to do so.

Heroic Redmond defies the pain barrier

Derek Anthony Redmond didn’t win a medal at the Barcelona Olympics. In fact, the British 400m runner didn’t even make it past the semi-final stage. But it was his determination to finish that will live forever in the minds of millions. Injury forced the Briton to withdraw from the 1988 Seoul Games just ten minutes before the start of his 400m heat, so Redmond felt he had everything to prove in Barcelona four years later. Not to his peers, that is but, as he later admitted, to himself.

Redmond wanted a medal in Barcelona, whatever the colour and he started well, qualifying for the semi-finals by clocking the fastest time in his heat. As the gun signaled the start of his semi-final, Redmond charged out of the blocks, making good speed over his first 250m. At that point his right hamstring snapped. The one time British 400m record holder pulled sharply up as the rest of his field ran away from him, leaving Redmond on his knees and crippled, his Olympic dream shattered.

What followed, however, is one of the most memorable moments in Olympic history. Redmond got back to his feet and tried to finish the race. In an act of true courage against adversity, Redmond could only hop on one leg towards the finish line. Pain etched on his face as each step became more painful than the last, Redmond would not give up. He had promised himself and his father, that he would finish the race ‘no matter what,’ and he would keep that promise.

Half way to the finish line on one leg and crying with desperation, his father Jim entered the track without credentials and helped him to complete the race. The moment Redmond crossed the finish line brought sixty-five thousand spectators to their feet in a standing ovation, many also in tears. Few can remember that Steve Lewis of the USA won the semi-final but no one who saw it will ever forget Derek Redmond’s courage on the day he defined the essence of the human and Olympic spirit.

Transformation of Barcelona

It all started with the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. There had been a great effort from the City Council and the society of Barcelona who really threw their weight behind the Games. In Barcelona, holding major sports competitions is now a key part of their development. They have identified sport as the perfect way to inject life into a city, to improve its well-being and to put it on the international stage.

The capacity for organizing events in Barcelona just grows and grows. Every weekend there is some kind of sporting event going on and more than 40,000 youth take part in competitions. Barcelona Marathon has grown by 20 per cent with every edition. The city of Barcelona have really increased participation in sport for everyone, especially those who are suffering physical or economic difficulties and the city continue to invest in sport.

Barcelona highlighted the confidence and global exposure that the city gained from staging the Olympics. It placed Barcelona on the world map from a sporting point-of-view and led to other events coming to the city. The economic benefits they have enjoyed is colossal. Equally, the Barcelona ’92 Games were a unique opportunity to showcase the city to the world. Truly, Barcelona is the inspiration for any city holding an Olympic Games after what happened in 1992!

(The author highlights spectrum of sports extravaganza. He is the winner of Presidential Academic Award for Sports in 2017 and 2018 and recipient of National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc)