(ATR) I had the privilege of flying from Moscow to Geneva with Anselmo Lopez as a travel companion for about six and a half hours.
Miguel Hernandez with President Samaranch at his home
Also on that flight was Juan Antonio Samaranch. On that day, July 17, 2001, some 20,000 feet high, Samaranch received the congratulations from his entourage for his 81st birthday… and for more reasons.
The 112th IOC Session had ended as Samaranch wanted: with Beijing’s election for the 2008 games, with the election of Belgian Jacques Rogge as the eighth IOC president, and with the election of his son, director of the International Modern Pentathlon Union, as a member of the IOC.
Thanks to that time inside the Swissair aircraft, I was able to learn more about the history of Anselmo Lopez and his friendship with Samaranch.
From when Lopez was the head coach of the Spanish national basketball team, then national director of that sport. From his time as general secretary of the Spanish Olympic Committee when he presided over Samaranch and when he appointed him to the head of the Olympic Solidarity of the IOC after the Olympic Congress of Baden-Baden in 1981, a key position he held for 15 years.
Lopez, by the way, got the doubts out of me. Contrary to what I imagined, Samaranch was not a “fan” of the "Barcelona" club, but from RCD Espanyol unless football was spoken.
With Juanito Samaranch in Lausanne at the transfer of power to Jacques Rogge on July 19, 2001
So I understood my mistake when weeks before the Moscow appointment, I called Samaranch at his home in Barcelona, from Havana. It was one of those usual calls that he always gently attended to answer about Olympic news. But that day, it was “La Liga” day.
“But don’t you know that the “Espanyol” is playing right now?” he told me. From what I assumed, I got him up from in front of the TV.
So to good understanding… We postponed the dialogue for the next day (and because on that night, it did not end well for his beloved club.)
I had the personal and professional satisfaction of having his friendship. That sentiment of the president of the IOC was revealed when he gave me his book “Olympic Memories.”
Samaranch's dedication to ATR journalist Miguel Hernandez
Among his last words in Moscow, Samaranch had said that in the same place, in the Hall of Columns when he was elected in 1980 - 40 years ago on July 16, 2020, there were only 15 journalists, and in 2001, more than 1,500 were registered.
Among these accredited journalists in the Russian capital, were several of the reporters interested in the Olympics from the so-called “Third World”, thanks to the vision and management of President Samaranch.
The helmsman of the Olympic Movement also contributed to the “universality” of sports journalism.
Samaranch regretted not having completed the reforms made in 2000, in the wake of the Salt Lake scandal, 10 years earlier.
“Every crisis, even the most serious, has a positive side,” he said. A phrase to remember in this time of the pandemic.
I met Samaranch personally when he was in Havana in 1982 for the Central American and Caribbean Games.
From then on, my encounters with Samaranch were more frequent at international games and meetings, interrupted only by boycotts to Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988 to which Cuba joined.
However, one of those encounters I set most in my memory had nothing to do with those contexts.
I was in his office at the Chateau de Vidy, a few days before his controversial trip to Washington in mid-December in 1999, where an incisive interrogation by a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee for the Salt Lake scandal awaited him.
Some felt that it could be weakening to accept a demand from American politicians. That’s what I asked him.
“I have no other choice,” he responded. “Besides, there’s no better defense than a good attack, and even more, "playing" as the visitor.”
History gave him reason.
Thanks to Samaranch, the Latin American presence inside the IOC was noticed like never before.
Even today, a quarter of its members joined the body during the “Samaranch era”, headed by President Thomas Bach.
This Friday night, at the Cathedral of Lausanne, his children, Maria Teresa, and “Juanito”, together with Thomas Bach, and other close friends, remember the legacy of Samaranch on his centenary.
On the other side of the Atlantic, other friends also remembered him.
Reported by Miguel Hernandez
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