Former IOC president Samaranch to be laid to rest, Rogge pledges to preserve his legacy

By Paul Logothetis, AP
Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rogge pledges to preserve Samaranch’s IOC legacy

BARCELONA, Spain — The coffin holding former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, draped with the Olympic flag, was wheeled into the Catalonia state headquarters Thursday to the sound of the Olympic hymn.

Samaranch was remembered in a private ceremony watched by the Spaniard’s family and a host of international figures and dignitaries. The building was then opened to the public before the funeral later in the day.

Current International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said Samaranch made the Olympics “the premier sporting event in the world.”

“We’ve come from the four corners of the world to say farewell to an old friend and great man,” Rogge said. “Juan Antonio Samaranch was the most influential president after our founder Pierre de Coubertin.”

The 89-year-old Samaranch, who was president of the IOC from 1980 to 2001, died on Wednesday from heart failure.

With the Barcelona native’s son Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., daughter Maria Teresa, partner Luisa Sallent and other family members — including all seven grandchildren — watching with about 100 others, Rogge paid tribute to a “generous, compassionate man.”

“Behind a great man there is a rich personality. He was a man of few words but each of these words would resonate loudly and were always meaningful,” said Rogge, who succeeded Samaranch. “He has left a great legacy. And I pledge in the name of the International Olympic Committee that we shall preserve and perpetuate his legacy and his heritage.

“On behalf of the Olympic movement I would like to express my warm condolences to the family — you have lost a beloved father and grandfather; Spain has lost an illustrious son; the Olympic movement has lost a leader, a mentor and a friend.”

Crown Prince Felipe called Samaranch a “colossal figure” in Spanish sports and a “universal” figure in world sports.

Men and women of all ages streamed into the Salon Sant Jordi room to pay their respects, many bringing flowers. Samaranch will soon be taken to Barcelona’s cathedral for the funeral.

Manuel Rodriguez was the first member of the public to get close to Samaranch’s coffin.

“He’s loved by all. Not just by Barcelona but all of the world,” said Rodriguez, who is 87. “The city changed very, very much because of him.”

The volcanic ash that disrupted air travel left 22-year-old Chinese student Mao Yunfei stranded in the Catalan capital but with the chance to pay her respects. She said Samaranch was loved in China for bringing the games to Beijing in 2008.

“In our heart he is a hero,” Mao said. “His spirit, you can still feel it. There’s an old saying in Chinese — if you die, you shall live in people’s hearts.”

Fidel Castro and Raul Castro paid their respects through one of the growing number of flower arrangements that had arrived by early afternoon. IAAF president Lamine Diack, IOC vice president Tomas Bach, two-time Olympic champion Sebastian Coe, Olympic champion Rosa Mota and Barcelona soccer president Joan Laporta were among those that signed the book of condolences. Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia were expected at the funeral.

“Merci pour tous,” Rogge wrote in French, meaning “Thanks for everything.”

At the start of his 21 years at the helm of the Olympic body, the IOC was nearly bankrupt, the Olympics were battered by boycotts, terrorism and financial troubles, and no cities wanted to host the games.

Rogge said Samaranch changed all that, with the Olympics now a thriving, multibillion dollar industry.

“He had the wisdom to modify and change the IOC itself and make it a modern, transparent, representative and financially independent organization,” Rogge said.

Samaranch created the Court of Arbitration of Sport, took over a male-dominated IOC that now has 20 women among its 100-plus delegates and brought more female athletes into the Olympics.

“Many years will have to pass before we can know the authentic scope of his work,” Spanish Olympic Committee president Jose Alejandro Blanco said.

The private ceremony closed with the crowd standing after listening to “Amigos para Siempre” (Friends For Life) by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was played throughout the 1992 Games that Samaranch brought to Barcelona. Maria Teresa, Samaranch’s daughter, said it was one of her father’s favorite songs.

“He was happy to defend the values of sport,” Maria Teresa said. “Sport always was and will always be representative in our lives. That always made him happy and it makes us happy, too.”

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