Juan Antonio Samaranch’s final moments of consciousness were spent watching tennis — a fitting end for a person who was once one of the most powerful men in sports.
The former president of the International Olympic Committee, who died Wednesday from cardiac arrest after being admitted to a hospital three days earlier, had been watching Rafael Nadal win the Monte Carlo Masters on television Sunday when his steady decline took hold.
“He was feeling fine. There was nothing out of the ordinary,” Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. said of his father, who was 89. “He watched Nadal’s match — he loved tennis — and after the game he wasn’t feeling great so we decided to come here around 6 or 7 at night.
“Then he collapsed. They stabilized him but he never came out. And that was the last time he was conscious.”
Because Samaranch was having trouble breathing, his daughter, Maria Teresa, took him to Quiron Hospital, where he lost consciousness only 20 minutes after arrival.
Samaranch, who headed the IOC from 1980-2001, had been bothered by health problems in recent years. But even those previous hospital visits didn’t make it any easier for Juan Antonio Jr.
“It’s the first time I go through this, losing a father, and it’s not easy,” he said. “If there is a good way to die, I guess it was this way. He had a full life and career.”
Spain quickly began mourning Samaranch, who was described as a great innovator and a landmark figure in the world of sport.
Spanish King Juan Carlos — who will attend the funeral alongside Queen Sofia — praisedSamaranch’s “deep relationship with the royal family and his dedication to Spain, Catalonia and the Olympic movement” in a telegram delivered to the family.
Spanish Olympic Committee president Alejandro Blanco called it “a day of sorrow and mourning for Spain,” while Spanish sports secretary Jaime Lissavetzky said the country had “lost a reference point for world sport.”
“For Spain, he was always and emblematic figure and one to which we surely owe in great measure the promotion of our sport and in particular the clinching and success of the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992,” Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Pau Gasol said. “I will always be grateful to him for his involvement in Spanish sport.”
IOC president Jacques Rogge, Samaranch’s successor, is one of the many dignitaries expected to attend Thursday’s funeral in Barcelona.
“I cannot find the words to express the distress of the Olympic family,” Rogge said. “I am personally deeply saddened by the death of the man who built up the Olympic Games of the modern era, a man who inspired me, and whose knowledge of sport was truly exceptional.”
“It is with great sadness that we learned the news today about Juan Antonio Samaranch,” said Larry Probst, chairman of the United States Olympic Committee. “President Samaranch was a great supporter of the Olympic Movement in the United States, and in particular was a great supporter of our athletes. We salute this special man’s preeminent place in the history of the Olympic Movement. Our hearts go out to his family, his friends, the people of Spain and most importantly to all the athletes whose lives he made better.”
Condolences also poured in from Spanish culture minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde, football star Cristiano Ronaldo and from football clubs such as Barcelona and Real Madrid. Samaranch was a member of Madrid since 1940.
“Juan Antonio Samaranch always held an extraordinary close relation with Spanish tennis, which he worked closely with during the Davis Cup boom in the 60s,” Spanish tennis federation president Jose Luis Escanuela said. “He’s always been by the side of our players and coaches. Spanish sport has lost its leader and No. 1 ambassador.”
Juan Antonio Jr., speaking less than an hour after his Samaranch’s death, said his father had made an important mark in the world of sports.
“It’s not to me to say how he should be remembered. He will have his place in history with Olympism,” he said. “I think he’s been very recognized in life and that will only grow with his death.”
- Associated Press