The 1992 Barcelona Olympics

They say modern Olympics began in 1896 with Pierre de Coubertin. In fact, the Olympics as we know it today began in 1992 Barcelona. Before Barcelona, the public interest in the games had been pretty low. For instance, Los Angeles had been the only bidder for the 1984 Games. However, LA’s commercial success made the next bidding process, in 1986, hotly contested. Barcelona beat Paris, Belgrade, Brisbane, Amsterdam and Birmingham (?!)  to host the Games. With the fall of the Soviet Union, its athletic hegemony too was gone, with many newly independent states from the former USSR and Yugoslavia participating as independent states. (Many CIS states participated under the banner of the United Team.) With the Iron Curtain and the Apartheid gone, Germany and South Africa returned to the games.

Also, the 1992 Games mark the beginning of the flamboyant opening torch ignitions that has been the Olympic norm since. An archer who competed in the Paralympic Games, Antonio Rebollo lit the flame by firing a burning arrow towards the cauldron. Well, actually he didn’t, but it seemed he did. Rebollo was instructed to overshoot the cauldron for safety measures (although shooting a flaming arrow into the Barcelona night sky isn’t probably that much safer), and the cauldron was gradually releasing fuel into the air, so when the flaming arrow passed over it, it ignited itself, tricking the eye.

Some 200 archers were initially chosen based on three criteria: they must have no fear of fire; must be able to use an ancient-style wooden bow (without modern sighting devices); and they must already be precise enough to shoot from a distance of about 100 steps. To keep the ceremony a secret, they could not practice in the main Olympic stadium, and trained secretly on a hillside nearby in the early hours when no one was around. For ten months, there were sunrise practices with actually flaming arrows which singed fingers and machines that simulated various weather conditions and crowds. Four finalists were kept until just two hours prior to the ignition, lest an accident would occur (with flaming arrows, they usually do). But Rebollo was not appreciated: he later complained to a Spanish newspaper that he received no official accreditation or tickets to see any of the events, not even the archery!

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