Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
BARCELONA, Spain — Juan Antonio Samaranch, a reserved but shrewd dealmaker whose 21-year term as president of the International Olympic Committee was marked by both the unprecedented growth of the games and its biggest ethics scandal, died Wednesday at a hospital. He was 89.
Samaranch, a courtly former diplomat who served as Spanish ambassador in Moscow, led the IOC from 1980 to 2001. He was considered one of the defining presidents for building the IOC into a powerful global organization and firmly establishing the Olympics as a world force.
Samaranch was admitted to the Quiron Hospital in Barcelona on Sunday after experiencing heart trouble. The hospital said he died at 1:25 p.m.
"I cannot find the words to express the distress of the Olympic family," IOC president Jacques Rogge said. "I am personally deeply saddened by the death of the man who built up the Olympic Games of the modern era, a man who inspired me, and whose knowledge of sport was truly exceptional."
Rogge will be among the dignitaries attending a special ceremony on Thursday morning before the funeral at Barcelona's cathedral later that day.
Small in stature and shy by nature, Samaranch appeared uncomfortable appearing or speaking in public. But behind the scenes, he was a skilled and sometimes ruthless operator who could forge consensus in the often fractious Olympic movement and push IOC members to deliver exactly what he wanted.
Samaranch was also a lightning rod for critics, who attacked him for his ties to the Franco era in Spain, his autocratic style and the IOC's involvement in the Salt Lake City corruption scandal.
The Samaranch era was perhaps the most eventful in IOC history, spanning political boycotts, the end of amateurism and the advent of professionalism, the explosion of commercialization, a boom in growth and popularity of the games, the scourge of doping, and the Salt Lake crisis.
Samaranch had been bothered by health problems ever since stepping down nine years ago. He was hospitalized for 11 days in Switzerland with "extreme fatigue" in 2001 after returning from the IOC session in Moscow, where Rogge was elected as his successor.
Samaranch was hospitalized shortly afterward in Barcelona for what was described as high blood pressure. He received regular dialysis treatment for kidney trouble. He spent two days in a hospital in Madrid in 2007 after a dizzy spell, and underwent hospital checks in Monaco in October 2009 after feeling ill at a sports conference.
Despite the advancing age and medical troubles, Samaranch continued to travel to IOC meetings around the world. He looked increasingly frail in recent months. Attending the IOC session at the Winter Games in Vancouver in February, he walked with the aid of a female assistant.
Even in retirement, Samaranch remained active in Olympic circles and tried to help Madrid secure the games of 2012 and 2016. Madrid finished third behind winner London and Paris in the 2005 vote for the 2012 Olympics, and second to Rio de Janeiro for 2016.
Samaranch spoke during Madrid's presentation in Copenhagen on Oct. 2, 2009, essentially asking IOC members to send the games to the Spanish capital as a parting gift for an old man close to his final days.
"Dear colleagues, I know that I am very near the end of my time," Samaranch said. "I am, as you know, 89 years old. May I ask you to consider granting my country the honor and also the duty to organize the games and Paralympics in 2016."
In Moscow in 1980, as a little-known Spanish diplomat, Samaranch was elected the seventh president of the IOC, taking the most powerful job in global sports.
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