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Saturday, September 9, 2000

Blame not all Juan's

 Juan Antonio Samaranch is 80-years-old and will step down next year in Moscow as president of the International Olympic Committee.

 There's no doubt the former Spanish ambassador to the Soviet Union has been much more maligned than any of his predecessors, even the legendary American Avery Brundage. The late, wealthy American expected every athlete to pay his own way to the Olympic Games to retain the true spirit of Olympism. Fortunately, cooler and more practical heads prevailed.

 Over the years, and more so in recent years, Samaranch has been the target of angry attacks by some writers and broadcasters, mostly because of the Salt Lake City bribery scandal as well as for the luxurious way IOC members travel and live.

 No one disputes that several members of the old IOC hierarchy accepted gifts in excess of what was deemed decent, but to place all the blame on the shoulders of this slight, intelligent and amiable diplomat -- without spelling out his pluses -- is unfair.

 To list all of Samaranch's accomplishments would take up a lot more space than fits into this column. But let's just mention the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland -- Samaranch's multi-million-dollar legacy. Let's just look at the bank balance of the world's wealthiest sports organization, an achivement orchestrated by Juan Antonio and his first vice-president, Canada's Dick Pound.

 Some of his least publicized accomplishments are the Olympic Academy in Athens, and the more recently established organization of Olympic participants, the World Olympians Association, of which he's honourary president and which is headed up by Hungary's Pal Schmitt, an Olympic double gold medallist.

 "You can rely on our support," Samaranch told Schmitt not long ago while welcoming the executive board of the WOA. "Please accept my warm welcome in the Capital of the Olympic Movement.

 "Lausanne, by now, can be considered truly the Capital of the Olympic Movement, since besides the IOC Headquarters, the Olympic Museum was also opened and 14 international sports federations have chosen this marvelous town for their central location."

 The World Olympic Association was created four years ago for the purpouse of unifying Olympic athletes from around the globe. They are publishing a magazine called Flame and they are distributing the Flame pin, which symbolizes Olympic participation.

 Samaranch, impressed by both, advised the WOA to distribute the pins in every country to Olympic athletes.

 "It is important, because these pins can demonstrate some sort of unity." he said.

 And unity is something the Olympic movement is looking for in these difficult times.