1992 Olympics: Spanish sporting spirit

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1992 Summer Games

Host: Barcelona, Spain

Medal table winner: Olympic unified team



Held between July 25th and August 9th, the 1992 games saw Spain host as the Olympic carnival shuffled towards the new millennium. With the Iberian nation hosting the games for the very first time, Barcelona proved the hub of a successful albeit unspectacular tournament. Such success was boosted by the competition being the first Olympiad to be void of boycotts since 1972.

Rather uniquely, it wasn’t a nation that topped the medal table in Barcelona. Given the dissolution of the Soviet Union just one year previously to the games, the IOC constructed a unified team that encompassed Russia and 12 other newly formed states. It proved this coalition side that overcame the United States and the freshly unified Germany in the medal tally. Hosts Spain came a respectable sixth with the United Kingdom sorrily winding up thirteenth.

King Juan Carlos I had the honour of opening the games that saw an impressive 9,356 athletes take part. Barcelona put on a superb show and demonstrated just why they had quashed Paris and Brisbane in the bidding process. All in all, with the Cold War over and peace returning, the 1992 games proved the very first truly modern Olympics with which we could relate to today.

Heartbreak for Redmond

Arguably the most touching moment in the modern Olympics’ 120-year history. The Barcelona games saw British 400m sprinter Derek Redmond’s heart set on Olympic glory. There was reason to be optimistic given his integral role in the UK’s historic 4x400m relay victory at the 1991 World Championships. However, the games were to end in heartbreak.

During his semi-final heat, Redmond tore his hamstring along the back straight and thus forced him to pull-up. Unsurprisingly, he was reduced to tears. Nonetheless, he attempted to continue the race at a hobble before his father, without credentials, fought his way onto the track. In one of sport’s most heart-warming moments, the pair made it to the finish with their arms around one another to a standing ovation.

Christie seals 100m gold

After Allan Wells’ 100m gold in Moscow 12 years previously, hope remained high in British sprinting come Barcelona. Such aspirations were augmented by the fact Carl Lewis had failed to qualify albeit his golds at the previous two Olympics. Consequently, the British poster-boy Linford Christie was fancied to bring home the title with the competition blown wide open.

However, expectations withered after a disappointing semi-final where Christie suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of Leroy Burrell. Going into the final, the American was the favourite for victory with 200m specialist Frankie Fredericks also fancied. Burrell got off to a rocky start however and Dennis Mitchell led early on, yet Christie began to position himself well with 50m to go.

With the finish line in sight, Christie found a late surge of energy and burst through the field. Leaning for the line narrowly ahead of Fredericks, the Brit secured the biggest accolade in sport. The time of 9.96 seconds may have been underwhelming, but it proved the ultimate upgrade on his 1988 silver medal nonetheless. Burrell, meanwhile, had choked under the pressure and whimpered to a fifth place finish.

Dream Team shines

While America’s stranglehold on sprinting may have slipped, it certainly didn’t on the basketball court. For the very first time, professional players where allowed to compete and the US team became formidable as a consequence. NBA stars such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird culminated in an outfit so incredible they were donned the ‘Dream Team’.

Expectations were weighty, but the ludicrous abundance of talent served to quell any lingering pressure. The NBA side won Group A with an unblemished record that included a 116-46 butchering of Angola and a 111-68 massacre of Germany. Puerto Rico and Lithuania were respectively dispatched during the knockout rounds as the USA cruised to the gold medal match.

Having already beaten their opponents Croatia in the group phase, Jordan and co were heavy favourites. The plucky eastern Europeans put up a remarkable fight, but were ultimately inferior. Jordan and Johnson ran riot in a 117-85 win that secured the gold medal. Across any sport and any era, there have been few such mercurial, dominant and merciless teams ever assembled.

Brilliant Boardman for Britain

While the 1992 Olympics were ultimately disappointing for Team GB with just five gold medals, there were still moments to savor. One such moment proved Chris Boardman’s gold in the 4000m Individual Pursuit. It ended what had been a spectacular cycling drought for the UK at the Olympics with it proving the first win in 72 years.

What made the victory all the more impressive was the fact he was the underdog in the final upon facing world champion Jens Lehmann. By the 13th lap of the Velodrome though, Boardman made his move and duly caught up with the German to secure the win. His historic moment has contributed, via its inspiration, to the fantastic new generation of British cyclists e.g. Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

Other sports

Chinese diver Fu Mingxia rose to fame in Barcelona by becoming the youngest ever-Olympic gold medalist. Aged just 13, she defeated Yelena Miroshina in the women’s 10 metre platform and would go onto win three further golds in Atlanta.

A confusing incident in the synchronized swimming programme saw two gold medals issued after technical faults. Sylvie Fréchette was robbed of victory when a judge inputted 8.7 instead of 9.7, but was awarded a gold the following year. Kristen Babb-Sprague was not demoted to silver however and, oddly, kept her medal.

Sally Gunnell rose to fame in Barcelona as she brought Britain a much-needed dose of track success. Her brilliant victory in the 400m hurdles as well as bronze in the 4x400m relay saw the Essex-born runner become a national hero.



Kobe Tong

YJA Senior Correspondent