1992 Olympic Games

The summer when Barcelona dazzled the world…

By Duncan Rhodes Barcelona Life

We take a nostalgic look back to the epic Summer Games of 1992, and the legacy they left in their wake… Feature photo by Team GB.

The 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona were an enormous success, both as an international sporting event and as the catalyst for wide scale urban renewal of Barcelona the city… but let’s start by remembering the Games themselves.

The opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics has been heralded as one of the most magnificent in sporting memory! Dancers clad all in white danced Catalonia’s traditional circular Sardana dance – echoing the Olympic rings, Jose Carreras and Monserrat Caballé performed Freddie Mercury’s sensational ‘Barcelona’ anthem (given added poignancy by the recent death of the Queen frontman), and Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo lit the Olympic flame by dramatically firing a lighted arrow over the heads of the crowd into the Olympic cauldron. The 1992 Games were underway!

Amongst the blood, sweat and tears that always accompany this quadriennal competition, were of course some unforgettable highlights: such as Linford Christie’s Gold Medal in the 100 metres at the age of 32, and the Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo’s haul of six gold medals in gymnastics, including four on a single day. Meanwhile China’s Fu Mingxia won the high dive event at the age of 13, held in view of Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, and Evelyn Ashford of the USA won her fourth career Olympic gold medal at the age of 35 – one of only four women to achieve this in Olympic history. Finally no basketball fan will forget the year in which the all-American dream team was formed. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley were amongst the superstars of the NBA that cruised to gold.

Politically the 1992 Olympics were especially poignant. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the dissolving of the Soviet Union in 1991, meant that for the first time in three decades there were no nations who boycotted the games… in addition Germany sent a unified team for the first time since 1964, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – now separated from Russia – sent their own teams, and South Africa was allowed to compete for the first time since 1960 after finally ending Apartheid. One of the most poignant moments from the 1992 Olympics was undoubtedly the closely fought 10,000m track race between the white South African runner Elana Meyer and the black Ethiopian athlete Derartu Tulu. Tulu won, but both runners then completed a lap of honour hand in hand. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the 1992 Games however was the Derek Redmond’s collapse in the semi-final of the 400 metres. Despite pulling a hamstring, the plucky Brit stood up and completed the race, with his father bursting out of the stands to help him.

A spectacular closing ceremony consisting of a grand concert and pyrotechnics show aptly signalled the end of the Games, in which the Unified Team (former USSR) won the medal count, followed by USA and Germany, with Spain coming in an impressive 6th.

Impact of the 1992 Olympic Games

Although the games were heralded as a huge success by virtually all who watched, attended and competed, the real success, at least as far as the city of Barcelona and her residents were concerned, was the long-lasting positive impact the Olympics had on the city. From the status of relatively provincial port city (think along the lines of Naples), Barcelona was catapulted into cosmopolitan resort on the Mediterranean and by the end of the 90s had become one of Europe’s most visited cities, behind London, Paris and Rome.

Much of the feel good factor was down to the numerous new sites Barcelona now boasted, along with a host of renovated districts and buildings. These projects included the construction of the Olympic Port, with the twin towers of the Arts Hotel and Mapfre Tower (the tallest buildings in Spain when built), the remodelling of the seafront, including Barceloneta beach, the building of the Olympic Stadium and the Palace of Sant Jordi, and a host of contemporary monuments by leading artists – such Frank Gehry’s FishHomage to Barceloneta by Rebecca Horn, Barcelona Head by Roy Lichenstein, and not forgetting of course the Torre Telefónica designed by architect Santiago Calatrava (the man who designed Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences) to transmit TV coverage of the Games.

Apart from the obvious rise in employment resulting in the (re)construction of these edifices, these sparkling new and aesthetically amazing buildings naturally led to a rise in local pride, and a huge increase in the desirability of living in and visiting the city! Barcelonians have been riding that vibe ever since, and as we near the 1992 Olympics Games’ 20th anniversary the city shows no sign of losing its lustre – just ask the 20,000,000 people who visit Barcelona every year.

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