Juan Antonio Samaranch, 1920-2010: Forgive His Flaws, Honor His Deeds

Jo-Ryan SalazarSenior Analyst IApril 24, 2010

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - OCTOBER 02:  IOC honorary life president Juan Antonio Samaranch addresses IOC members during the Madrid 2016 presentation on October 2, 2009 at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark. The 121st session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will vote on October 2 on whether Chicago, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro or Madrid will host the 2016 Olympic Games.  (Photo by John Gichigi/Getty Images)
John Gichigi/Getty Images

I was born on Aug. 2, 1984. The date to this day holds an important place for me because the Los Angeles Summer Olympics, a Games that turned one of the highest profits in the history of the Olympics, were running their course.

Back then, the president of the International Olympic Committee was a gentleman from Spain that was a few years removed from taking over the reins of Ireland's Lord Killanin.

That man was Barcelona's very own Juan Antonio Samaranch. While his presidency will be known for his flaws, such as his futile attempts to curb the doping scandals that ran rampant in East Germany as well as letting the Terrible Ten taint Salt Lake City's successful 2002 Olympic bid, the deeds that helped the IOC become the organization that is have made him a hero in his own country, and a savior of the Modern Olympic Movement.

It's a legacy that will never be replicated, not even by Jacques Rogge.

Juan Antonio Samaranch Torelló was born in Barcelona on July 17, 1920, during a time where Europe was recovering from the Great War, World War I.

A business student at the University of Navarra's Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa (IESE) by day and two-sport athlete by night (Samaranch was a boxer and also played roller hockey), Samaranch owed his authoritative style of governing to his days as a member of Francisco Franco's government.

This was seen by some experts as the reason behind Samaranch's flawed decision-making. Among those was British author Arthur Jennings.

"[Samaranch] believed that democracy was foolish," Jennings said on Samaranch. "This was not an accident. The fascist attitudes he brought...lasted all the way through his life and did incalculable damage to the Olympics because he believed...in trickle-down power.

"This was something he learned from the Franco regime: You gave your lieutenants the opportunities for corruption; it bound them more loyally to you."

Ironically, this was how he would ascend to the IOC presidency in 1980. As a deputy sports minister  under the Franco government, he was elected to the IOC in 1966, became the president of the Catalonia province of Barcelona in 1973 and was Spain's ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1977.

The climb up the ranks would finally give Samaranch his chance to transform the IOC's dilapidated state. The 1972 Munich, 1976 Montreal and 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics were littered with boycotting countries, cost overruns, and an additional Eastern Bloc boycott in 1984 after Samaranch ascended the presidency.

Despite all of this, it was the power of the five Olympic rings as a marketing tool and a launching pad for lucrative television rights for networks around the world such as the BBC, EuroSport and the biggest of all, NBC.

With a $232 million profit turned in, the Los Angeles Summer Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad became the start the Samaranch wanted for his master plan. But he didn't stop at the bottom line. There was more to come.

Samaranch involved members from Third World countries to have their say on the direction of the movement through increased investments in those regions. Women could now apply for membership in the IOC.

The number of women's sports proliferated under his tenure. And with the addition of professional athletes at the 1992 Barcelona Games, the quality of talent at the Summer and Winter Olympics improved by leaps and bounds.

Still, Samaranch's presidency was not without its two greatest shortcomings: doping and the mess that was Salt Lake City 2002's bid.

East Germany, in its heyday, built a strong sports program. However, its athletes were able to get away with their Olympic medal heists thanks to the lack of stringent anti-doping tests that are required by the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA).

The Stasi and major heads of the GDR such as sports federation president Manfred Ewalt, imposed blanket doping on athletes as young as age 10. As result of the injection of anabolic steroids, nine gold medals at Mexico City '68 became 20 at Munich '72 and 40 in Montreal '76.

Over 10,000 athletes in the former East Germany have yet to mentally and physically recover from the practices that could have been prevented had the IOC been able to aggressively pursue the issue better in Samaranch's early years at the helm.

Then there was the Salt Lake 2002 scandal. After Salt Lake City lost the 1998 bid to Nagano, Japan, Tom Welch and Dave Johnson of Ogden, Utah, chose to provide a number of interested member ski trips, scholarships for their children, Super Bowl packages, plastic surgery, real estate, and jobs for their family to go with cash bribes.

As a result of this, Chile's Sergio Santander Fantini, Seuili Paul Wallwork of Samoa, Mali's Lamine Keita, Zein El Abdin Ahmed Abdel Gadir of Sudan, The Republic of the Congo's Jean-Claude Ganga and Ecuador's Agustin Carlos Arroyo  were the first to be expelled in the committee's century-plus history. Four other IOC members resigned as a result of the scandal.

Nonetheless, Samaranch will arguably be remembered for saving the Olympic Movement from the brink of collapse in the 1980's, making it the multi-billion dollar machine that it is today.

Samaranch passed away at the age of 89 on April 21, 2010. He is survived by his son, IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch Salisachs, daughter Maria Teresa Samaranch, and seven grandchildren.

When I look back at Juan Antonio's legacy, he must be viewed as a man who had his flaws, but did great things that outweigh the bad.

In fact, if Pierre de Coubertin were to meet him in the afterlife, I would believe that even he would be impressed at how his dream has not only become a reality, but one of the greatest sporting events in our planet's civilization.

For the sake of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the world must forgive his flaws and instead honor his deeds.

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