In 1986, with Spanish-born Juan Antonio Samaranch as the head of the International Olympic Committee, Barcelona, a decade free from the iron-fisted rule of Franco, was selected to host the Olympic Games in 1992. For the next six years, the preparation for the Olympics rejuvenated the entire city with the building and refurbishing of infrastructure to attract the masses for the next decades to come. The events that came out of these Games would be not forgotten for the historical milestones in both athletics, preparation of the festivities, and in the geopolitical sphere as a whole.
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Gold Medal Moments
The Olympic flame cauldron was lit by Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo, with a flaming arrow, at Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys (known then as Estadi Olímpic de Montjuïc). In basketball, professionals were allowed to play for the first time, permitting the United States to form the “Dream Team,” made up of the best players in the world, including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Charles Barkley. At the Palau Municipal d’Esports de Badalona, they won every game by an average of 44 points en route to the gold medal. The beautiful Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc which overlooks the city – including the Sagrada Familia – was the site of China’s Fu Mingxia winning performance in diving, at the age of 13, making her the youngest person ever to receive the gold medal. In addition, baseball, badminton, and women’s judo made their debut as official Olympic sports, while roller hockey and Basque pelota were played as demonstrations.
A Game Of Reunification
The XXV Olympiad was bigger than just the actual games themselves. When Barcelona was awarded the Games, the Soviet Union was still a massive power, the Berlin Wall was up, and the policy of Apartheid still reigned over South Africa. In addition, several countries had been boycotting the Games for the past 20 years for political reasons. But in 1992, the Soviet Union was dissolved, the Berlin Wall was torn down, Germany was reunified, and the Apartheid was about to come to an end. The newly independent countries from the dissolved Soviet Union were together one last time as the “Unified Team”, with the sole exception in the former Soviet pact being Yugoslavia who was sanctioned over the country’s actions in the Bosnian conflict; their athletes who were permitted to compete played under the Independent Olympic Participant banner. South Africa had been banned from participating since 1960 but was finally allowed to return to play and Nelson Mandela himself went to see the team enter the stadium. The Olympic pledge to keep out politics out of the events and promote sportsmanship was completely upheld.
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Being an Olympic host was economically beneficial to the city with a drop in unemployment, a rise in the housing market (which had slumped during the last decade), and boom of the construction and engineering sector which was injected with billions of both private and public funds spent on the upkeep of the aftermath. Tourists have flocked to the city since and the residents were given access to the facilities for recreation and practice for all sports. The Olympic Village was converted into private apartments, new roads de-congested traffic, and El Prat Airport was expanded and modernized to take in the huge crowds that started coming in.
A total of 169 nations sent 9,356 athletes to play in 257 events in 25 separate sports. In athletics, it was an incredible achievement and sight to the beholder for the many who witnessed what took place on the track, when 400-meter runner Derek Redmond tore his hamstring and was helped to the finish line by his father. Or, when Belarusian gymnast Vitaly Scherbo won 4 gold medals in a single day. Or when, during the opening ceremonies, a montage of the city was played with the Olympics theme song performed by opera singer Montserrat Caballé and rock star Freddy Mercury, a bittersweet showing because of Mercury’s passing the previous year.
Twenty-five years later, the legacy of the 1992 Olympics remains in place as an event of unity and hope for sportsmanship and a glorious success for the entire city.
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