Juan Antonio Samaranch, former IOC president, dies at 89

Juan Antonio Samaranch, a former International Olympic Committee president, died Wednesday after being admitted to a Barcelona hospital with heart problems. He was 89.
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 22, 2010

Juan Antonio Samaranch, the man credited with ushering the global Olympic movement into an era of prestige and prosperity while also overseeing an almost-crippling ethics scandal during his 21-year tenure as the International Olympic Committee president, died Wednesday. He was 89.

Samaranch, who assumed the presidency of the International Olympic Committee in 1980 amid a financial and political crisis, relied on backroom deal-making and a soft-spoken but autocratic style to help lift the organization out of near-bankruptcy and bring big money, professional athletes and international stature to the Olympic Games.

A former Spanish ambassador who remained an honorary IOC president and attended the Vancouver Winter Games in February, Samaranch entered Barcelona's Quiron Hospital experience heart trouble Sunday. He died early Wednesday afternoon.

His funeral, which will take place Thursday at Barcelona's cathedral, is expected to draw many of the Olympic movement's leading figures. His death was mourned by sport officials around the world.

"I was very sad to hear about the death of Juan Antonio Samaranch, a man who I have no hesitation in describing as the person who transformed the modern Olympic movement into what it has become today," said Lamine Diack, the president of track and field's world governing body (IAAF), in a statement. "Samaranch worked with great energy, intelligence and the skills of a natural diplomat to create a unified Olympic Movement and to ensure that the Olympic Games became the world's most influential sporting event."

Samaranch, the Spanish Ambassador to the former Soviet Union and the People's Republic of Mongolia from 1977 to 1980, helped create the business blueprint that turned the IOC into an almost recession-proof global conglomerate that generates billions of dollars in sponsor and television revenue each quadrennial. But he also faced heavy criticism over the doping problems the movement endured throughout his tenure, and in the aftermath of a bribery scandal over Salt Lake City's selection as the 2002 Winter Games host engulfed the organization in 1999.

The scandal led to the expulsion of nearly a dozen IOC members and hearings on Capitol Hill; Samaranch surprised many when he agreed to appear, and never lost his trademark regal composure as he masterfully handled a grilling by lawmakers.

IOC President Jacques Rogge called Samaranch the "architect of a strong Olympic movement." Samaranch's term as IOC President was surpassed only by the 29-year term of Pierre de Coubertin, the French baron who founded the modern Olympics and served 1896-1925.

"I cannot find the words to express the distress of the Olympic Family," said Rogge in a statement. "I am personally deeply saddened by the death of the man who built up the Olympic Games of the modern era, a man who inspired me, and whose knowledge of sport was truly exceptional."

Samaranch is survived by a daughter and his IOC-member son, Juan Antonio Samaranch, Jr.

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