Barcelona road to Segrada Familia
The wide-open road to Segrada Familia in Barcelona.

In my view, the streets in Barcelona are not suffocating with traffic. I was only in Barcelona for a few days in April, but the roads in the business districts are amazingly wide, and we were never slowed in our travels. When I walked the narrow paths of Gracia, a cozy neighborhood in the middle of Barcelona, I never felt squeezed by cars. I lived in Bangkok for 11 years. I know what bad traffic looks like.

But of course it is all relative. While Barcelona is no where near as hot, congested or polluted as Bangkok, for citizens of Barcelona, conditions are not as good as they should be. According to this VOX article by David Roberts of the University of Pennsylvania, Barcelona is the fourth-most population-dense city in Europe, is well under the World Health Organization’s recommendation for 9 square meters of green space per resident at 2.7 square meters, suffers from urban heat island effect at 3 to 8 degrees Celsius warmer than the region around it, and is considered one of the noisiest in the world.

One of the reasons for this poorer quality of life is due to decades of negligence by former totalitarian leader, Francisco Franco,  After the generalissimo passed away in 1975, development in Barcelona began again, peaking with financing sparked by the Olympics, which may be another reason for the state of Barcelona today.

According to Samuel Rosenthal and his article, Olympic Cities and the Legacy of Infrastructure: Barcelona 1992 and Athens 2004, the planners for Barcelona were essentially taking advantage of global trends, including the desire for large cities to invest in urban renewal, and to also brand Barcelona as an exciting destination for tourists and global financing. In fact, Rosenthal explained that planners shifted attention from “publicly planned, small-scale infrastructural improvements to larger schemes funded by private investors.”

This is not unique to Barcelona. The organizers leveraged the Olympics to realize long-held plans for the development of Barcelona as would any other city. But as I wrote previously, these Games were so successful economically that it is often held up as the gold standard for an organization of an Olympiad, cited as The Barcelona Model. But one can argue that the Olympics triggered inflows of private capital that brought both benefits and detriments to Barcelona, as Rosenthal explains.

…this largely positive appraisal of the Barcelona Olympics belies the negative consequences of its planning strategy that have become evident in succeeding years. The regeneration of the waterfront, while touted as a positive outcome of the Games, has increased housing prices across the city, forcing many longtime residents to leave. Additionally, following the Barcelona Games, inflation in the city increased and unemployment rose. And on a larger scale the city branding approaches used for the Barcelona Olympics have increasingly placed control of the city in the hands of private agents. Generally, post-Olympic city planning in Barcelona has become less focused on the improvement of the lives of the city’s residents, and more attuned to strategies that seek to maximize the attraction of capital.

Part of the woes of urbanization and increased emphasis on development is a diminished prioritization of the working class. Economist Andrew Zimbalist, author of the fascinating book, Circus Maximus – The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup, quoted Josep Maria Montaner, an architectural critic, in explaining how old housing and factories, landmarks of a different age, were demolished, and new development lacked any environmental or sustainability standards. Zimbalist then went on to explain how inflows of private capital led to gentrification.

Barcelona’s new urban zones were redeveloped with improved public services and, in some cases, direct access to the sea. These parts of the city became gentrified, and hand in hand with gentrification came higher prices. Higher prices meant that lower-income people had to relocate, and, more generally, plans for public housing were underfulfilled. One study noted the following impacts:

  • Strong increases in the prices of housing for rent and for sale (from 1986 to 1993 the cumulative increase was 139% for home sale prices and nearly 145% in home rentals)
  • A drastic decrease in the availability of public housing (from 1986 to 1992 there was a cumulative decrease of 5.9%)
  • A gradual decrease in the availability of private houses for rent (from 1981 to 1991 the cumulative decrease was 23.7%)11 Thus, like the experience with mega-events elsewhere, hosting the games in Barcelona was accompanied by a redistribution of living standards to the detriment of lower-income groups.

One can argue that the decrease in supply is being driven by a Silicon Valley start up called Airbnb, which is highly popular in Spain. For those who don’t know, Airbnb is a service that connects you with people who are offering accommodations in their own properties. The original premise of Airbnb was that you could rent out a person’s room, and you could spend time with the owner. Today, people and companies run businesses renting out apartments and houses to people who are looking for alternatives to hotels.

Airbnb

I spent a week in Madrid and Barcelona in April. In Madrid, I stayed in a room the owner lived in. He was out of town, but a guest occupied another room. It was a great experience as we got along well with the other occupant. In contrast, our Airbnb accommodation in Barcelona was owned by a couple who managed three properties, none of which they lived in. Overall, both experiences were great for us. But while Airbnb is a boon for tourists, it is to the detriment of local residents, as explained in this New Yorker article.

Nearly half the Airbnb properties in Barcelona are entire houses or apartments. The conceit of friendly locals renting out spare rooms has been supplanted by a more mercenary model, in which centuries-old apartment buildings are hollowed out with ersatz hotel rooms. Many properties have been bought specifically as short-term-rental investments, managed by agencies that have dozens of such properties. Especially in coveted areas, Airbnb can drive up rents, as longtime residents sell their apartments to people eager to use them as profit engines.

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It was early 1987 and Freddie Mercury was finally meeting one of his heroes – the great Spanish soprano, Montserrat Caballé.

As described in El Pais, they met at the Hotel Ritz in Barcelona. Mercury sat down and began to improve his song, “Exercises in Free Love“, singing in a falsetto a part he hoped Caballe would be willing to perform for him.

Caballé liked that Mercury, contrary to appearances, sold his voice instead of his image. “When he sat down at the piano to improvise, I realized that a true musician was before me,” she said. He made such a good impression that she agreed to meet him again at his house in London to record a demo.

Thus began a creative collaboration that resulted in an album called “Barcelona”, with three tracks sung by Mercury and Caballe, including the title track “Barcelona”. When the song came out in 1987, it hit #8 in the UK Singles Chart, peaking at #2 after Mercury passed away in 1991.

In the run-up to the 1992 Summer Olympics, Mercury was priming the world for the PR explosion to come for Barcelona, a city of sun and fun that was gearing up for its global coming-out party. Today, Barcelona is one of the most popular destinations in a country that is the third most visited in the world. And while city after city reject initiatives to bring the Olympics to their neighborhood, the 1992 Barcelona Olympics is often held up as one of the most successful Olympics ever.

In fact, The Royal Institute of British Architects awarded their 1999 medal to the city of Barcelona for its “ambitious yet pragmatic urban strategy and the highest design standards…(which) transformed the city’s public realm, immensely expanded its amenities and regenerated its economy, providing pride in its inhabitants and delight in its visitors.”

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The site of the former Olympic Village of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, in Poblenou. Photo taken by author.

Starved of investment by Spain’s autocratic leader, Francisco Franco, Barcelona was a congested and polluted city by the sea, whose aging manufacturing infrastructure crumbled during the poor economy of the 1970s and physically blocked the city’s denizens passage to the nearby Mediterranean Sea. Thanks to city plans accelerated by the requirements for the  Olympics, investments into Barcelona’s transportation and communications infrastructure were made. According to Samuel Rosenthal and his article, “Olympic Cities and the Legacy of Infrastructure: Barcelona 1992 and Athens 2004,”

Barcelona renovated an existing stadium and created four Olympic areas with 4,500 apartments and 5,000 hotel rooms. In terms of infrastructure outside the immediate realm of the Games, the city constructed a new Ring Road to connect venues, two communication towers, new cultural centers and museums, expansions to the airport and the metro system, and five kilometers of new beaches.

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The section of ring road that passes by the foot of Mount Tibidabo in Barcelona. Photo taken by the author.

As so few examples of economically successful Olympics exist, this example from 1992 is often called “The Barcelona Model” – in general, a scenario where a city and a country are able to leverage the Olympic brand to accelerate existing plans to develop the host city’s physical and service infrastructure. Or as economist Andrew Zimbalist describes, “Barcelona used the Olympics; the Olympics didn’t use Barcelona.”

Zimbalist explains that there were four factors for Barcelona’s success. (The headings are my words.)

  1. Barcelona cool: In his book, Circus Maximus, Zimbalist described Barcelona in the early 1980s as “a hidden jewel. Its location, climate, architecture, and history meant that the city had a tremendous potential for tourism and business that had been unexploited for decades.” In fact, Zimbalist cited stars like Freddie Mercury who would visit the Catalonian center for its cool factor, and who added to the city’s secret cache. Barcelona was quietly becoming a popular destination for tourism and conventions. As Zimbalist wrote, “with a new airport terminal and forty new hotels in the city, the number of passengers at Barcelona’s airport almost doubled, from 5.46 million in 1985 to 10.04 million in 1992. Barcelona’s ranking as a tourist and business meeting destination among European cities improved from eleventh in 1990 to fourth in 2009.”
  2. Improving economy:  Zimbalist wrote that business was so good in Barcelona that unemployment dropped from 18.4% to 9.6% between the period of November, 1986 to July, 1992. Annual GDP growth was stuck under 1% for well over a decade from 1974 to 1985, which means that large infrastructure projects were few and far between. So when the Olympics rolled around, “the Barcelona economy was ready to receive and benefit from stimulus spending.” Unfortunately for Brazil and Greece, the opposite happened when their Olympics rolled around.
  3. EU Membership: In 1986, Spain joined the European Economic Community (today called the European Union), which gave Spain access to broader opportunities in finance, trade and tourism across Europe.
  4. The Olympics as Part of the Grander Plan: The most important reason that the Barcelona Olympics did not result in the hideous white elephants that we have seen recently in Sochi and Athens, among many others, is that “the Olympics were made to work for the plan. The plan was not created posthaste to work for the Olympics.” Most of the $11.5 billion budget 2000 dollars) was from private sources. Public funds were 40% of the entire budget, and most of the public spend were in projects already part of city plans that had existed for decades.

Part of grand plan of the city planners was to focus on four peripheral areas of Barcelona where investments for the Olympics would spur continued economic use. As Rosenthal explained,  “It was also important that any infrastructure built specifically for the Games had a clear post-Olympic use,” so the planners chose four areas in the peripheries of the city where investment was needed: Montjuïc, Diagonal, Vall d’Hebron, and Poblenou.

The most dramatic and most praised of the changes took place in Poblenou, the eastern seaside part of Barcelona that was opened to the sea, and boasted two gleaming towers that initially housed the athletes as a central part of the Olympic Village, and then went on to become residences for the citizens of Barcelona.  As Rosenthal wrote, “Newspapers lauded the ‘gleaming new Olympic village and beachfront’ which had replaced the ‘grimy industrial area that had blocked access to the sea for decades.'”

In 1992, Spaniards saw the Olympics as a symbol of progress and global integration. But it was also a chance to show off Barcelona cool, and help make the Capital of Catalonia a must-see destination. And nothing symbolized that more than the memorable cauldron lighting of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

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The Olympic cauldron of the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys in Montjuïc, Barcelona. Photo taken by author.

At the end of the opening ceremony, held in the refurbished Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys in the newly improved Montjuïc area, archer Antonio Rebollo pulled back on the arrow, feeling the tension in the bow, and the heat of the flame that flickered in the wind from his arrow’s tip. Rebollo could barely see the reflection of the silver cauldron beyond the wall of the stadium, but once he was oriented and certain of his angle, he released the bow string sending the flaming arrow into the summer night. The arrow travelled 230 feet up into the air and over the cauldron, setting the fumes alight.

They call it one of the greatest Olympic torch lightings ever, for what is also called one of the greatest Olympics ever.

Barcelona Olympic Village 1
The author on site at former Olympic Village of the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games, April 29, 2019.

A journey is coming to an end.

I celebrate the fourth anniversary of my blog, The Olympians, by announcing that my book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is coming out in July.

The book, 1964: The Greatest Year in the History of Japan – How the Tokyo Olympics Symbolized Japan’s Miraculous Rise from the Ashes, is the product of the thousand-plus posts from my blog, The Olympians, which I started on May 1, 2014. It is also the product of interviews of over 70 Olympians from those 1964 Games, people whose memories and insights are lifeblood to the book.

I’ve had the honor for some of those Olympians, as well as writers and academics read the manuscript. Here are their advanced referrals for my book. Take a look!

Look for details going forward on the book here on my blog, The Olympians!

The author at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics stadium.
Barkley and Wang on TNT set
Lin Wang and Charles Barkley on the TNT set

One of the best sports stories of 2018 is a story of an Odd Couple.

Gentler than the relationship of Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, more real than the bond between Melvin Dummar and Howard Hughes, was the friendship between a cat litter scientist in Muscatine, Iowa named Lin Wang, and one of the most famous basketball players on the planet, Charles Barkley.

The story told by Wang’s daughter, a journalist named Shirley Wang, set the internet world abuzz a few weeks ago with her feel-good story of how her father was in a hotel in Sacramento in 2014 when he spied Barkley at the empty bar, and then went up to say hi. What ensued was 6 hours of drinks and dinner, and a friendship that lasted four years, much to the mystery of Shirley’s family, and the bemusement of Barkley’s jet-setting friends.

Shirley Wang tells the story eloquently in this audio report for public radio called “My Dad’s Friendship with Charles Barkley.” Wang and Barkley texted each other. Wang would get invited onto the TNT set when Barkley was broadcasting. Barkley would sign Air Jordan and Air Max sneakers for Wang, which Wang would then send to his close friends on their birthdays.

Charles Barkley and Lin Wang selfie
Charles Barkley and Lin Wang selfie

But when Barkley’s mother passed away, Wang dropped everything, got on a plane, made his way to Leeds, Alabama, and attended the funeral. Here’s how Barkley explained the scene to Shirley on the phone last year: “You know, it was obviously a very difficult time. And the next thing I know, he shows up. Everybody’s like, ‘Who’s the Asian dude over there?’ I just started laughing. I said, ‘That’s my boy, Lin.’

Wang’s daughter, Shirley, had no idea who Barkley was, and humored her father who said he was friends with a big celebrity. To her, Barkley was not one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, as her father would fondly note. No, at best he was a B-List celebrity. And as she learned when she was interviewed on a Slate sports podcast, Barkley did not have the best of reputations as a player.

In his hey day, the “Round Mound of Rebound,” as he was known, the 6ft 6 (198cm) and 250 lb (113 kg) Charles Barkley was a loud-mouth, elbow-swinging, rim-shaking Mack Truck on the basketball court, who was an 11-time NBA All Star for the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets.

A member of the US men’s basketball team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, aka The Dream Team, he was labeled the Ugly American for elbowing a slight Angolan player in the chest for little apparent reason. “Next time, maybe I should pick on a fat guy,” he said flippantly after the game.

In defense of friends sitting with him at a bar, he stood up to a guy who was said to throw ice at him and his friends. Barkley chased the 20-year-old man down, picked him up and threw him through the window of the Orlando, Florida bar.  “For all I care, you can lay there and die,” Barkley was quoted as saying as he left the scene.

And in his current role as commentator on the NBA, TNT and their viewers love the unfiltered opinions and clownish antics of Charles Barkley.

Wang, on the other hand, was a quiet cheerful guy, “everybody’s suburban dad”, as his daughter would put it. But Barkley and Wang found a deep common bond, as she explained on the Slate podcast.

To me, they were kindred spirits. They had a chance encounter and they decided to act and follow through on that friendship to exchange numbers and continue talking. I don’t think a lot of people would sense that connection with other people. They wouldn’t go out of their way for other people. I think my dad could feel the gravity of a moment and he could be very convicted about what he needed to do. He felt really convicted about his feelings and his friendships so I guess that’s why he jetted off. It was confusing to us at the time. We didn’t really understand why.”

It really surprised me that he thought about our similar racialized experiences in the US. And of course they were very different. My dad came  with a visa to study for a PhD. He was already on a path set for success, or financial stability. Whereas Charley comes from a lower income family in the South of the US. It was really interesting that they made that connection. But I do think that they come from a very specific generation where that is the belief – the American dream. They can both build themselves up. Anyone can succeed if they work hard enough.

Shirley Wang and Lin Wang
Shirley Wang and Lin Wang

In May of 2016, Lin Wang was diagnosed with cancer, a fact he hid for a long time from friends, including Barkley. And in June of 2018, Wang passed away. And as the guests began to settle in to the funeral taking place in Iowa City, Iowa, Shirley looked behind her. “Standing there — drenched in sweat from the Iowa summer, towering over everyone in the room at 6 feet, 6 inches tall — was Charles Barkley.”

Alone, slightly panicked, disoriented in a town he had never been with people at a funeral he had never met, but gracious and humble, Barkley was true to the spirit of his friendship with Wang – authentic.

In her phone interview, Shirley asked Barkley what they talked about. He replied they talked primarily about their kids, and that Wang talked about his son and daughter a lot. And Barkley, to the surprise of the world, dispensed insight into the parental mind that melted hearts:

“Hey, listen. You stay in touch. Please tell your mom I said hello. Give her a big kiss. Tell your brother I said hello. And listen: Just keep doing you. It’s your time now. Don’t forget that. That’s the most important thing. Your dad prepared you to take care of yourself. He prepared you for that. I was blessed to know him — and know you, too.”

“Thank you for your time,” I said.

“You’re welcome, baby. You take it easy, you hear?”

“You too.”

I know how much his friendship with Charles Barkley meant to my dad. It was not just a relationship with a celebrity — it shed light on the possibilities of this world. A world where someone like him could just say something cool, something charming, and befriend someone like Charles Barkley.

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What’s the highest grossing film about basketball in history? Ivan Reitman’s 1996 film, Space Jam, featuring the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan.

Where were the greatest pick-up basketball games of all time played? On the set of Space Jam in 1995, on a custom-made indoor-basketball court built on the location of the studio where Space Jam was shot.

Starring in the movie with 1992 Olympic gold medalist, Jordan, were his teammates on that Barcelona Dream Team, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley. Jordan had come out of retirement in 1995, but fell just short of taking his Chicago Bulls to the NBA Finals, which lost to the Orlando Magic in six games.

According to this great ESPN article, Jordan wanted to make sure he was able to train hard and gear up for the following NBA season while filming Space Jam, so he asked for and got the construction of the indoor basketball court, dubbed the Jordan Dome. Jordan put out the word that he was looking for people to play in pick-up games, and the stars made a beeline for LA. In addition to co-stars Ewing and Barkley, all stars like Grant Hill, Rod Strickland, Glen Rice, Dennis Rodman, Juwan Howard, Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson and Reggie Miller came to play some of the most intense shirt-skins matches ever.

Tracy Murray, who played in these games, said “it was like an NBA all-star game every day.”

Michael Jordan, a man not satisfied with semi-final finishes, was determined to make sure these pick-up matches got him razor-sharp ready for the NBA season. According to the ESPN article, Don MacLean, a power forward for the Washington Bullets at the time, was being guarded by Jordan. MacLean got hot and scored the majority of his team’s points to help his team to victory one evening. MacLean had to leave town after that match, and Jordan came up to him and said, “Thanks for coming, make sure you come back.” MacLean thought that was cool of Jordan to say that, so he looked forward to coming back a couple of weeks later. Here’s how ESPN explained Jordan’s revenge.

When MacLean did show up a couple of weeks later, he played in the first game of the night. “[Jordan] walks on the court, says, ‘I got MacLean,’ and did not let me touch the ball for the entire game,” MacLean said. “And I was trying. And he was not letting me touch the ball. “Right then and there, I was like, ‘My God.’ For a pickup game in the summer that means nothing, two weeks later, he remembers that. I couldn’t believe it.”

No one was more competitive, or more skilled than Michael Jordan in his prime. And therefore, no was better.

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Stephen Strasburg, Dexter Fowler, Trevor Cahill and Jake Arrieta with their bronze medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

They are a dying breed. Since baseball was dropped from the Olympics as an official sport from the 2012 London Games, there are fewer and fewer Olympic medalists still playing in the Major Leagues.

But as it turns out, three of them are on the Chicago Cubs, the recently crowned world champions. As you can see in the picture above, very young versions of Dexter Fowler, Trevor Cahill and Jake Arrieta were on the bronze-medal winning American team that competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the last time that baseball was played in an Olympics.

By my count, there are 12 major leaguers who have won a medal in baseball in the Olympics, and played in the 2016 MLB season. Baseball premiered at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Incredibly there is still one player from all medalists in the 1996 Olympics who is still playing in the majors – R. A. Dickey, a 42-year-old pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays.

  1. RA Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays, who won bronze for Team USA at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
  2. Koji Uehara of the Boston Red Sox, who won bronze for Team Japan at the 2004 Athens Olympics
  3. Lee Dae-Ho of the Seattle Mariners, who won gold for Team Korea at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  4. Oh Seung-hwan of the St Louis Cardinals, who won gold for Team Korea at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  5. Ryu Hung-Jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won gold for Team Korea at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  6. Brett Anderson of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  7. Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  8. Trevor Cahill of the Chicago Cubs, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  9. Brian Duensing of the Baltimore Orioles, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  10. Dexter Fowler of the Chicago Cubs, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  11. Kevin Jepsen of the Tampa Bay Rays, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
  12. Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals, who won bronze for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Don’t forget. Baseball is coming back to the Olympics at the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Which major league stars of today will still be Olympians in four years: Mike Trout? Bryce Harper? Noah Syndergaard? Mookie Betts? Maikel Franco? Manny Machado? Nolan Arenado? Francisco Lindor? The entire Chicago Cubs infield?

The 10,000 meter race is grueling race that grinds for close to 30 minutes, and yet short enough to still feature fantastic sprints to the finish line. The finals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics was no different…but this one has a bit of a stench.

Khalid Skah of Morocco was locked in a two-person duel with Richard Chelimo of Kenya with only three laps to go. Skah and Chelimo were quite familiar with each other. The year previously, Chelimo helped set the pace for fellow Kenyan, Moses Tanui, at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, which allowed Tanui to lengthen his lead against Skah, and eventually win gold. In a race for individuals, that is considered fairplay teamwork.

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Hammou Boutayeb, Richard Chelimo and Khalid Skah in the 10,000-meter finals of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

 

Back in Barcelona, at the 24-minute mark of the 10,000-meter finals, Chelimo was in the lead with Skah close behind. That’s when they came upon Hammou Boutayeb, the 10,000-meter gold medalist from the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Boutayeb was unceremoniously lapped, as Chelimo continued his lead over Skah. “This is one of the most exciting races I ever witnessed,” said one of the broadcasters. “The crowd has stayed behind. It’s 25 to 11 (pm) in the Barcelona, Spain and 60,000 people in the stadium still cheering on these two athletes.”

Suddenly at the 25;10 mark, Boutayeb swung out wide and passed Chelimo, sliding into the innermost lane, placing Chelimo in a Moroccon sandwich. Chelimo at that point is very likely peeved that Boutayeb, a man he lapped, is playing tactics, but the Kenyan decides to push ahead of Boutayeb. Skah followed closely behind. After the announcer said “that was the dirtiest trick we’ve seen all night,” Boutayeb again sprinted out front, playing the pacemaker.

Official trying to stop Hammouj Boutayeb
Official trying to stop Boutayeb.

And remarkably, as Chelimo and Skah pass Boutayeb, a Swedish official named Carl-Gustav Tollemar, came out onto the track in an attempt to grab and stop Boutayeb for nought. With one lap to go, Chelimo and Skah finally separated from Boutayeb and the two drove to an incredible back-and-forth sprint in the final 100 meters, ending with the Moroccan taking gold in a dramatic finish. Here’s how the announcers responded:

  • A: Listen to the crowd. They don’t like it.
  • B: I don’t like it. You don’t like it. The crowd of 60,000 people don’t like it.
  • A: They’re booing and whistling and throwing things here at Skah. It’s a bit unfortunate for him but he used Boutayeb for two or three laps and there will probably be a protest from the Kenyan group.

As it turns out, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) quickly disqualified Skah, making Chelimo the gold medal champion. Skah was informed that he was disqualified because he was seen talking with Boutayeb during the race, and was thus colluding with Skah to beat Chelimo. When Skah heard that, he exploded. According to The Complete Book of the Olympics 2012 Edition, Skah “had harsh words for Boutayeb, whom he accused of being an ‘animal, an imbecile’ who didn’t even know how to read or write.” Skah explained that he was actually telling Boutayeb to “go away and stop interfering”.

The next day, the IAAF Jury of Appeal ruled in favor of Skah, stating in the end that they could not prove any illegal assistance provided by Boutayeb to Skah, and that “Chelimo’s progress had not been physically impaired.” While the rulebook was eventually amended to penalize actions like the one Boutayeb took, Chelimo remained the silver medalist.

Boutayeb had nothing to say to the media.

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The lighting of the cauldron at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The Olympics live on symbols. The five colored rings that represent the five continents of the world. The doves that represent peace. The gold, silver and bronze medals that symbol achievement at the highest sporting levels.

One of the most dramatic symbols of the Olympic Games has been the lighting of the Olympic cauldron that symbolically represents the Games ancient Greek origins, the beginning of the Games, and by extension, the suspension of hostilities in times of conflict and the coming together of the world’s athletes in competition and fair play. The cauldron lighting of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics most poignantly emphasized the need for world peace.

While this particular ceremony started at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, it was at the 1992 Barcelona Games where organizers raised the bar significantly in creating the Wow factor, that moment when you’ve seen something spectacular, something you would not have imagined or expected. In this case, it was paralympian archer, Antonio Rebollo, who shot a flaming arrow some 60 meters over a cauldron that rose seven-stories high, igniting the gases accumulating over the cauldron, and sending chills and thrills across the world.

In 1996, the organizers of the Atlanta Olympics had all sorts of issues with the planning of the cauldron lighting, but one thing they got right was having Muhammad Ali do the honors. Spectacle had to wait four more years for Sydney to bring goosebumps tot the world. An island nation, surrounded by water, Australia brought fire and water together in spectacular fashion. 400-meter sprinter, Cathy Freeman, stood in a pool of water. When she placed it to the watery surface, a ring of fire curled around her, the cauldron rising out of the water like a spaceship, making its way majestically to its home at the top of the stadium.

In 2008, China amazed the world with its spectacular opening ceremonies, highlighted by its impossible-to-imagine sky run, performed by legendary gymnast, Li Ning. Rising high above the crowd, suspended on wires, Ning appeared to run along the stadium wall for 500 meters before applying his torch and igniting another flame that spiraled up into a spectacular ignition of the cauldron.

What new spectacle and symbolism will the Rio Olympics bring? Our hearts are already a-flutter in anticipation.