Juan Antonio Samaranch, the longtime president of the International Olympic Committee who led the Olympic movement out of turmoil to unprecedented influence and prosperity, only to see his legacy tarnished by the specter of sports doping and a corruption scandal, died Tuesday in Barcelona. He was 89.
Mr. Samaranch, a Spaniard who served as IOC president from 1980 to 2001, had been in failing health since he collapsed one day after the last of his four terms ended, in July 2001.
Mr. Samaranch possessed a keen sense of politics and diplomacy and a fanatic devotion to the possibilities of the Olympic movement. Under his watch, even as the Games became a global TV phenomenon, he sought to push the peace process along in such diverse places as the Balkans and the Korean peninsula.
For all his political and diplomatic successes, however, he was never able — critics say he wasn't willing — to eradicate the use of performance-enhancing drugs among Olympians. And a corruption scandal erupted amid revelations that bidders in Salt Lake City had showered IOC members with more than $1 million in cash and gifts in a winning campaign to land the 2002 Winter Games.
"He took over the Olympics at a time of bankruptcy and led perhaps the most important turnaround of all time," said former IOC marketing director Michael Payne.
During his term, the IOC also awarded a series of lucrative U.S. TV rights contracts, including two groundbreaking deals worth $3.5 billion with NBC for five Olympics from 2000 to 2008 — agreements that Samaranch and Pound negotiated in secret.
"I cannot find the words to express the distress of the Olympic family," said Jacques Rogge, who succeeded Samaranch as president.