Persistence paid off in Barcelona's 70-year quest for Olympics

Banners, buttons, and bumper stickers throughout Barcelona give the city a carnival atmosphere and proclaim Spain's enthusiasm for hosting the 1992 Olympics. After four unsuccessful bids dating back to 1924, the Catalan capital finally achieved its goal this year when it was chosen over five other contenders - Amsterdam; Belgrade; Paris; Birmingham, England; and Brisbane, Australia.

The selection was made by the International Olympic Committee earlier this fall - and ever since the announcement, this major Mediterranean metropolis has felt a renewed sense of pride.

Spain is ``the only country of importance in Western Europe which has never held the Games,'' points out Barcelona's mayor, Pasqual Maragall. And taking in both East and West, 14 other European nations have already hosted either the summer or winter Games at least once. In other words, in the view of those supporting the bid, it was about time for Spain to get its chance.

Barcelona's latest candidacy was carefully conceived and presented. The organizing committee budgeted $667 million - to be raised from lotteries, TV and radio licenses, ticket sales, government, and private enterprise. Indeed, Barcelona was the front-runner during the years of lobbying leading up to the vote. Optimistic Spaniards even called attention to the appropriateness of the year - which will be the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World by a Spanish expedition.

``We have waited for 70 years since we first asked to hold the Olympic Games,'' said Maragall, president of the city's Olympic Committee. He looks forward to welcoming the Olympic athletes ``just as Christopher Columbus was greeted upon his return to Barcelona by the King and Queen of Spain.''

Maragall points out that Barcelona has a long tradition of Olympic participation. The first victory of a Spaniard in the Olympics took place in AD 200, when Lucius Minicius Natalis of Barcelona won the laurels in the stadium of ancient Olympia. And King Juan Carlos I is the only monarch in Europe who is an Olympic athlete. In 1972, he competed in swimming and skiing.

The idea of holding the Olympic Games in Barcelona originally took shape in 1913, but World War I intervened. Barcelona's first formal bids were made for 1924 and 1928, but those Games were awarded to Paris and Amsterdam respectively. By the 1930s, the problems that led to the Spanish Civil War were besetting the country, and although Barcelona tried again for the 1936 Games it was passed over in favor of Berlin. Finally, Spain's bid to hold the 1972 Games in both Barcelona and Madrid was not admitted because the wrong official signed the application form.

Hosting the Olympic Games temporarily lost some urgency after 1976 when General Francisco Franco died. Following 40 years of Franco's dictatorship, the country had to give top priority to such issues as national politics, economic and social relations, and the role of the military.

Now that King Juan Carlos I and the democratic government are firmly in place, however, enthusiasm has revived for the 25th Olympiad, coinciding, as it does, with the quincentenary of Columbus's discovery of America.

With an eye to 1992, Barcelona has started to build an Olympic Village near the harbor, and plans have been drawn up for a new Sports Hall to hold 17,000 spectators. Indeed, 73 percent of the needed facilities are completed - many begun while Barcelona's earlier Olympic bids were being considered. The Picornell swimming pool, a Municipal Sports Palace, the Hebron Valley Velodrome for cycling competitions, and Camp Nou, with a capacity for 120,000 spectators - the largest stadium in Europe - are among the facilities erected with past Olympics in mind.

Barcelona, where the Spanish Olympic Committee was first chartered, is intensely committed to sports, with a fervor that rivals pennant-race enthusiasm in the United States. In a city of 1.7 million, more than 1,200 sports clubs and groups cater to some 300,000 residents, who weekly take part in or attend a sporting event. In additon to coverage in the sports pages of daily newspapers, news of competitions and competitors is reported in three daily newspapers that specialize in athletics.

Though the 1992 Olympics are more than five years away, more than 30,000 enthusiasts have already signed up to volunteer their help at ``Barcelona '92.''

The '92 Olympics will be Spain's first, but Barcelona has played host to two world fairs and, between 1982 and the end of 1986, will have organized six world championships in sports, including basketball, swimming, soccer, and gymnastics. The Mediterranean Games, European Swimming Championships, World Field Hockey Cup, European Football Finals, Basketball Finals, and World Cycle Championships, as well as official riding competitions and international rifle meets, have also been held in Barcelona.

Barcelona's Olympic Committee has made it clear that the spectacle of the Los Angeles games will not be repeated. Roma Cuyas, chairman of the Spanish Olympic Committee, has said, ``The Games must take on a Mediterranean flavor, must be human and simple, paying attention to the world we live in, where, owing to the scarcity of resources, waste is no longer legitimate. The Games must reflect a search for the quality of life in cultural and intellectual values....''

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