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Sunday, October 1, 2000

Pound gets practice for very possible IOC crown

 They called it the "Four-day reign of King Richard Pound" in Olympic circles in Sydney.

 Indeed, Canada's Dick Pound, first vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, was in full charge of the IOC during the absence of president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who left Sydney just after the Games' opening ceremonies to go to the bedside of his dying wife, Maria Teresa, in Spain.

 Mexican media mogul and IOC member Mario Vazquez Rana offered Samaranch his private jet to reach his wife, but by the time the aircraft landed in Barcelona, Maria Teresa had passed away.

 Pound was telling me the story in detail, sitting in his office as marketing chief of the IOC in a by now well known red sports shirt with the Olympic rings, and made little fuss over the fact that for four days he was the guiding light of the Olympic movement.

 "I just stayed out of the way and let the pros handle their jobs" said the Montreal lawyer. "The Australians have a good organization and, as they say, why fix it if it ain't broke."

 He felt uncomfortable talking about his temporary elevated position and about the dramatic circumstances surrounding Samaranch's sudden departure from the Olympic Games.

 "It was in the middle of the opening ceremonies that he received a phone call from Barcelona, asking him to take the next available airplane home," recalled Pound, who was in Samaranch's company.

 "Mario Vazquez Rana immediately offered his private plane and the president was on his way. Samaranch turned to me and said he had to go home, but that he'd be back. He asked me to take his place since I was the first vice-president.

 "The appointment was not necessarily based on merit. It just so happened that I was the first vice-president and in line to take over if an emergency arose."

 Pound and Samaranch had a brief conversation during which the 80-year-old president told Pound he could call him in Barcelona if anything unual happened.

 Pound was resolute and told him he wouldn't call his boss under the circumstamces. "He didn't call me, but made all the arrangements for his return through his staff."

 Samaranch buried his wife and, using the same private plane, returned to Sydney with his daughter Maria Teresa, named after her mother.

 Albeit broken up by the loss of his life partner, Samaranch didn't lose his sense of humour."

 "At least, while I was away, Pound was lucky in that he was able to present the gold medal to the Canadian winner of the triathlon."

 But Samaranch knew Pound had to do more than just present medals on his behalf.

 "I chaired the daily co-ordination committee meeting, went to to make speeches in Samaranch's place and looked after routine matters," said Pound. "It was no big deal. But by doing all the routine matters, I realized what an extraordinary schedule that man has.

 "He's got a good team working with him and they didn't need help from a Canadian tax lawyer from Montreal."

 When Samaranch returned from Barcelona, he thanked Pound for keeping the ship IOC afloat.

 Perhaps, subconsciously, he was thanking his successor, the man who might be elected next July in Moscow once Samaranch officially abdicates his IOC post.