By STEPHEN WILSON -- The Associated Press
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- After presiding over the splendor of the opening ceremony, Olympics head Juan Antonio Samaranch faced a personal tragedy: His gravely ill wife died Saturday as he flew home to Spain to be with her.
Maria Teresa Salisachs-Rowe, 67 and reportedly suffering from cancer, died Saturday in Barcelona.
"She was not an IOC member, but she was a very close friend to all of us. She was like the first lady of the IOC," said Pal Schmitt, an International Olympic Committee member from Hungary who is the organization's head of protocol.
Close to tears, IOC vice president Anita DeFrantz said Samaranch knew in Sydney, where he was presiding over his last Olympics, that his wife was near death.
"She was a glorious woman. She was always exquisite," she said. "She was kind and generous."
Dick Pound, who as first vice president has temporarily taken over Samaranch's duties, said the Olympic flag would be lowered to half-staff from noon Sunday to noon Monday (9 p.m. EDT Saturday to 9 p.m. EDT Sunday) at the Olympic Stadium, three hotels where IOC officials are staying and IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
A Mass is scheduled Monday at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Sydney for Olympic officials and others.
"It is very sad indeed," Pound said on Australia's Nine Network TV. "The pressure he has been under in the past few months generally, and with this particular problem in the background, must be enormous."
Pound said a tradition in Spain is to have a quick burial with a Mass, followed by a service at a later date, which Pound guessed would be sometime after the Olympics. He said there wasn't enough time for other IOC officials to fly to Spain for the burial.
He said a condolence register would be placed at each of the three Olympic family hotels, and possibly at the Olympic Village.
In the village, a moment of silence was observed by the 199 national team mission chiefs at their morning briefing.
Schmitt said he was called from Spain around 4 a.m. Sunday (1 p.m. Saturday EDT) and told of the death. Salisachs-Rowe died at noon Saturday (6 a.m. Saturday EDT), IOC spokesman Franklin Servan-Schreiber said.
About 12 hours after presiding over his last Olympic opening ceremony and wishing the world "G'day," Samaranch abruptly left Sydney for Spain. He said he expected to return by next weekend, but that's uncertain.
"It's his decision," DeFrantz said. "He said at the executive board that he would come back, but I certainly wouldn't insist on it. What he did in opening the games is just incredible."
Kevan Gosper, an IOC vice president from Australia, called Salisachs-Rowe "very popular, a wonderful mother, and a great partner. She had great style."
"He couldn't have been in a more distant place in the world when things were deteriorating," Gosper told Australia Associated Press.
Samaranch and his wife had two children, Maria Teresa and Juan Antonio.
Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, heading a U.S. delegation to the games, said the delegation was "deeply saddened" by news of the death.
Under IOC protocol, Pound will lead the daily joint meetings of the IOC executive board and Sydney Organizing Committee. He said it would be business as usual.
"There's no change of command," he said. "We're just all helping out the boss as best we can. His objective is, the organization should continue to run as if he were here."
Samaranch is to step down in July after 21 years as president.
It's extremely unusual, but not unprecedented, for an IOC president to leave the Olympics.
In 1994, Samaranch left the Winter Games in Lillehammer to pay a brief visit to Sarajevo, the 1984 Winter Games site then in the midst of war.
The second IOC president, Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin, did not attend the 1904 St. Louis Olympics. Those games had been moved out of Chicago, spread across 41/2 months and were lost in the chaos of the world's fair.
After two years of being vilified by critics for corruption in the Olympic bidding process, Samaranch had come to Sydney hoping to put the scandals behind him, to relax and enjoy his final Olympics after 20 years as IOC president.
Samaranch was the focal point of the biggest scandal in IOC history -- the bribery case stemming from Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games.
The scandal led to the expulsion and resignation of 10 IOC members last year. Samaranch resisted worldwide calls for his resignation and pushed through reforms designed to modernize the IOC and prevent further ethical misconduct.
But fallout from the Salt Lake scandal continued to dominate IOC proceedings in Sydney on the eve of the games, and Samaranch was the center of extremely critical media coverage.
Samaranch went to the airport accompanied by Gosper, friend and adviser Fekrou Kidane, and Mario Vazquez Rana, the Mexican media magnate who runs the association of the world's national Olympic committees. Rana provided his private corporate jet.
"He embraced us before he went up the stairs of the plane and said he intends to come back as soon as he can," Gosper said.
There was speculation whether Samaranch would remain in office for the remaining nine months of his term. If he were to step down early, the first vice president would take over until the next election, set for July 16 in Moscow.
DeFrantz assumes the first vice presidency from Pound at the end of the Sydney Games.