Bombs and bodysuits in Barcelona: As the quadrennial Games begin, Phil Davison reports that not everyone in Catalonia is bathing in the Olympic spirit

JAMES BOND would have been impressed. There were naval frogmen in mini-submarines offshore, heavily armed police 'moles' in the sewers beneath the Montjuic Stadium and helicopters buzzing the Ramblas, Barcelona's best-known street, as the 25th Olympic Games got off the mark last night.

Why all the fuss? The jeers and whistles that greeted the Olympic flame on its route through the city, albeit from a minority, explained the tight security. 'We are under military occupation by Spain. Freedom for Catalonia now,' said posters and pamphlets distributed on the Ramblas as the flame was carried past by joggers with a heavy police escort on Friday night.

Two bombs which caused a spectacular fire on Friday at a gas pipeline not far from Barcelona were a further reminder that not everyone is bathing in the Olympic spirit. Yesterday police broke up groups of Spanish and Catalan nationalists to prevent clashes before the Olympic torch was carried through the city.

To the people of this autonomous Spanish principality, Catalonia, these are Els Jocs (Catalan for 'the Games'), not los Juegos, as in Spanish. Nationalist feeling has been running high in the run-up to the Olympiad but yesterday the Catalonians' renowned seny (common sense) appeared to be holding sway.

The friction was obvious at the final pre-Games news conference held by the International Olympic Committee president, Juan Antonio Samaranch. 'What is your name?' a journalist asked him. 'I am the president of the IOC, Mr Samaranch,' said the Olympic chief, struggling to keep his composure. The journalist had been making the point that most native sons of Barcelona, of which Samaranch is one, would use the Catalan version of their Christian names, in his case Joan Antoni.

Did the IOC chief not feel a certain embarrassment that he once served the dictator Franco in suppressing his own Catalan language and culture, asked another newsman. 'I am very proud of my past, you can be sure,' he replied.

On, then, with the show, billed as the 'most complete' Olympic Games in decades, if not in history. No boycotts, few absences, diplomatic compromises to ensure maximum participation. In ancient Greece, they halted city wars while the Games went on. Few expected Bosnia's warring factions to follow that example but the presence of athletes from all of Yugoslavia's former republics, under varying conditions, was hailed as a great victory by Mr Samaranch.

By way of celebration, he announced that he would run for another term when his tenure expires next year. That would take him through the IOC's centenary, in 1994, and the centenary of the modern Games themselves, in Atlanta in 1996. The word behind the scenes was that his re-election was far from certain, with the Mexican IOC member and multi-millionaire Mario Vazquez Rana lobbying enthusiastically for the job.

As the quadrennial show began, everyone who is anyone was in town. The line-up included Nelson Mandela, who said he was 'thrilled' to see South Africa back on the Olympic stage under a newly designed flag. A 22-year-old light-flyweight boxer, Abram Hkewafana Thwala, will be the first South African to compete when he steps into the ring today.

Even before the ceremony started, the Games' first scandal erupted when the German shot-putter, Kalman Konya, was dropped from the team after refusing a random dope test. It was an early, ominous echo of the 1988 Ben Johnson affair, even as Johnson himself was rumoured to have gone underground, possibly in Portugal, for intensive training for a renewed attack on the 100 metres sprint. 'He's fast. He's been holding back. Watch out,' one Canadian sports writer warned. Johnson's coach, John Cannon, was asked by reporters how the other sprinters felt about running a relay with the man who disgraced himself, his country and the Olympic ideal. 'You just have to pass the baton, you don't have to hold hands,' he said.

As in Seoul, the differing styles of Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson are already in evidence. Even before the Games opened, Lewis, billed here as el hijo del viento (the son of the wind) was everywhere - in training, on television, on giant billboards and in the newspapers. Although he did not qualify for the sprint events and is down only for the long jump, the smart money is on an unexpected Lewis sprint appearance, perhaps in the relay.

Tighter drugs checks, inspired by Johnson's ignominy and the collapse of Communism, are likely to be the two most important factors that make these the most 'complete' Olympics for many years. Germany will compete as one nation for the first time since the Second World War. The tennis player Boris Becker, 'roughing it' in the Olympic village, was much sought after by autograph hunters. He arrived late after dental treatment and showed off a shiny gold crown. On recent form, that could be the only gold he has when the Games end on 9 August.

The former Soviet states are in Barcelona. So, too, is Cuba, with President Fidel Castro on hand to watch his team take part in the opening parade. Not all the 172 teams in the parade were equally well received by the crowd. The Iranians stood out as the only team whose national name-plate was carried by a man. They refused to allow a woman to do the job. The team representing their Iraqi neighbours was booed and jeered as it entered the stadium.

The 27-strong Bosnia-Herzegovina team, by contrast, received a rousing welcome. They were flown out of Sarajevo with the help of United Nations troops and an IOC-chartered plane, to join their former Yugoslav compatriots from Croatia and Slovenia. Bosnia's 3,000 metres runner, Mirsada Buric, flew in after training in defiance of Sarajevo snipers. Arriving on Barcelona's flag- and bunting-lined avenues, she and her team mates described their journey as a voyage 'from hell to paradise'. Teams from three other former Yugoslav republics - Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia - were missing. After diplomatic compromise, all three were barred from the parade but allowed to take part in the Games under the neutral Olympic flag.

Perhaps one of the more striking changes this year is in track fashion. The days of baggy shorts and floppy shirts a la Chariots of Fire are long gone. In are knee-length bodysuits designed for their aerodynamic qualities but likely to distract many television viewers across the world. The bare-midriff Lycra outfits to be worn by the Australian women athletes have been accurately described as 'fairly exciting'.

According to the local media, some of the more conservative Spaniards may be taken aback by the groin-hugging costume worn by the British sprinter Linford Christie. Christie was described by one onlooker as 'carrying all before him' during a training session on Thursday. The runner himself says his suit has 'an exhilarating psychological effect', similar to the body-shaving tradition among swimmers.

Talking of skin-hugging outfits, among those most angered by the Games are Barcelona's transvestites and prostitutes. In an effort to keep the seamier side of the city hidden, the authorities have moved them from their traditional city-centre sites to an isolated industrial estate. They have already held protest marches and are threatening to do so again.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Sport
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk