'Inspirational' IOC president Samaranch dies

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The Independent Online

Juan Antonio Samaranch, who steered the Olympic movement through two turbulent decades marked by political boycotts, bribery, drug scandals and a greater emphasis on commercialism, has died at the age of 89.

Appointed honorary life president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) when he stepped down as president in 2001, Samaranch was admitted to the Quiron clinic in his native Barcelona on Sunday with acute heart problems and passed away at 1.25pm local time yesterday. He died as a result of "cardio-respiratory failure", a hospital doctor, Rafael Esteban, said in a statement.

Jacques Rogge, the current IOC president, said: "I cannot find the words to express the distress of the Olympic family. We have lost a great man, a mentor and a friend who dedicated his long and fulfilled life to Olympism." Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the 2012 London Olympics organising committee, said he had been deprived of a friend and that the world had lost an inspirational man. "A man that challenged us all to fight for sport, its primacy and its autonomy, a fight he led fearlessly from the front creating an extraordinary sporting movement that reaches millions of people around the world. He was quite simply the most intuitive leader I have ever met," Coe said.

Once one of the most powerful figures in world sport, who wielded influence in the Olympic movement up until his death, Samaranch suffered a number of health problems since his retirement. He ran the IOC with absolute authority for two decades and the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, which transformed the city, was seen as his personal triumph. His supporters believe he showed political skill in a difficult period – a US-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics followed by an Eastern-bloc retaliation in 1984 at Los Angeles – to lead the Games into the era of professional sport and turn it into a huge money-spinner. His critics argue that many of the original values of the movement were obscured in the search for commercial success, leading to high-profile bribery and drugs scandals.