AL OERTER, a much-decorated American discus thrower, once
described the Olympics of the 1950s and '60s as "county fairs."
Today the Games are almost unmanageably large. But that hasn't
suppressed the enthusiasm among organizers of the Games of the
XXVth Olympiad. They stand ready to host the biggest athletic event
in history, July 25 to Aug. 9.
The Games are filled with sports that seem strange bedfellows -
from the highly professionalized (basketball and tennis) to those
with aristocratic images (yachting and equestrian events) to the
traditional (track and field) to what some may see as arcane (team
handball, archery, and more). Taken together, however, they form a
captivating athletic spectrum that Bud Greenspan, an Olympic
filmmaker, says fascinates people because the Olympics "go back so
many centuries, it's every four years, and it's the best in the
Saturday's opening ceremony could produce one of the most
striking features of the 16-day spectacular simply by orchestrating
a hitch-free parade of athletes. About 10,000 people, representing
172 countries (both records) are expected to march in, including
representatives of Cuba, missing from action during the last two
Olympics for political reasons.
"Gigantism," as Olympic sprawl is known, presents a hurdle for
the Games as they head toward their modern centennial in Atlanta in
1996. Even so, "big" may translate as "beautiful" in Barcelona.
For years the Olympic officials have been frustrated in their
attempts to get the whole "family" together. They have been foiled
by boycotts of various sorts, or in the case of South Africa,
exclusion, because apartheid flies in the face of the Olympic
Charter. Now, however, virtually every member nation may answer the
roll call, with every effort being made to allow Yugoslavian
athletes to compete despite United Nations sanctions against the
warring Serbian government.
Total participation is seen as a cherished objective of Juan
Antonio Samaranch, the International Olympic Committee president
and a Barcelona native. Obviously, he'd like the first Olympics
held on Spanish soil to be special and to establish this
Mediterranean metropolis as world-class.
In 1936, Barcelona was prepared to host an alternative to
Hitler's Berlin 1936 Olympics, but the outbreak of the Spanish
Civil War canceled those People's Olympics the day before their
The architectural centerpiece of that event was to have been
Olympic Stadium, built in 1929. Still wearing its original facade
but enlarged and modernized inside, it should achieve landmark
status this time as the site of the opening and closing ceremonies
and the track and field events. The stadium anchors the sports
facilities in the Montjuic area, where 10 sports will be contended
in something called the Olympic Ring.
All roads and air routes seem to lead to Spain these days,
whether for the Olympics or the World's Fair in Seville. The
Iberian Peninsula, from which Columbus sailed 500 years ago, is
hot, often literally as well as figuratively. To avoid the heat of
the day, both the men's and women's marathons will begin at 6:30
No matter when events are held, however, hardly any will be seen
live on North American prime time TV because of the
six-to-nine-hour time difference. NBC, which paid $400 million for
the TV rights, is resigned to airing hours of prerecorded footage.
Easily the most daring TV development is NBC's decision to provide
a joint-venture "Triplecast," a pay-per-view supplemental cable
option for those with insatiable viewing appetites and $95 to $170
to spend. There have been few nibbles, though, and the experiment
threatens to be an electronic Edsel.
Most Olympic TV watchers apparently don't see the necessity of
blanket coverage, including that of normally invisible preliminary
rounds and competition. However, favorable TV ratings for a
succession of basketball blowouts in a pre-Olympic qualifying
tournament suggest that curiosity can overcome insignificance. …