During his 21 years as International Olympic Committee president, Juan Antonio Samaranch often would start his morning by scanning as many as a hundred or more pages of articles about himself and the IOC. Those pages, color-coded by topic and language, would, after all, shape the legacy he courted so hungrily. When Samaranch died on April 21 at age 89 in his home city of Barcelona, that record was a collage of progress and scandal. Samaranch, a calm, cunning dealmaker, was at heart a reluctant modernizer who enacted change at the whim of convenience and public demand.
That Samaranch presided over an Olympic boom is undeniable. When he took over, the Games had a dearth of bidders wishing to become host sites; now the Olympics are the singular global sports event, wooed by the world's greatest capitals. Under Samaranch the IOC won television rights fees that jumped into the billions and linked with sponsors for lucrative deals.
Samaranch helped the IOC to dispatch with an outdated definition of amateurism. His reign also saw women become members of the IOC for the first time, while female participation grew to the point at which more than 40% of Games athletes were women. Still, Samaranch's watch was tainted by an ever-darkening cloud of doping. Stung by a series of banned-substance cases, he supported the establishment of the World Anti-Doping Agency; his detractors say that a more proactive IOC might have prevented scandals. Samaranch also failed to stem the bidding improprieties of the late 1990s. Only after they were publicized did he institute reforms.
For years Samaranch would sign off at the closing ceremonies by pronouncing each Olympics as the "best ever." Yet in 1996 he insulted the hosts in Atlanta by describing those troubled Olympics as merely "exceptional Games," aware, perhaps, that legacies come in different shades.