Rogge leads global tributes to Samaranch

GENEVA: Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former International Olympic Committee chief who died on Wednesday displayed "extraordinary vision and talent" in unifying the Olympic movement during his 21 years in charge, his successor Jacques Rogge said.

"I cannot find the words to express the distress of the Olympic Family," said Rogge, who took over from the Spaniard at the helm of the most powerful organisation in sport in 2001.

"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.

"Thanks to his extraordinary vision and talent, Samaranch was the architect of a strong and unified Olympic Movement.

"I can only pay tribute to his tremendous achievements and legacy, and praise his genuine devotion to the Olympic movement and its values.

"We have lost a great man, a mentor and a friend who dedicated his long and fulfilled life to the Olympic movement."

Rogge''s words were echoed by Lamine Diack, president of world athletics governing body the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

"I was very sad to hear about the death of Juan Antonio Samaranch, a man who I have no hesitation in describing as the person who transformed the modern Olympic movement into what it has become today," said Diack.

"Samaranch worked with great energy, intelligence and the skills of a natural diplomat to create a unified Olympic movement and to ensure that the Olympic Games became the world''s most influential sporting event.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter saluted Samaranch''s "sense of commitment" and efforts "to protect sport" during a 35-years acquaintance.

"I always held him in great esteem," said Blatter.

Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner responsible for sport, also paid tribute.

"Juan Antonio Samaranch was one of the great figures of the Olympic movement and an exceptional ambassador for the world of sport. He took the Olympics Games into a new era during his 21-year presidency of the IOC (1980-2001) and ensured that the spirit of Pierre de Coubertin was never forgotten amidst the huge pressures of modern sport.

"The Olympic flame burns brighter today thanks to the extraordinary leadership of Juan Antonio Samaranch,? said Commissioner Vassiliou.

Further tributes poured in from around the world, with Seb Coe, chairman of the 2012 London Olympics organising committee and a close friend of Samaranch, praising his leadership qualities.

"I have lost a friend, one that moulded my path through sport from my early 20s, and the world has lost an inspirational man," said Coe, who won Olympic gold in the 1500m at the 1980 Games in Moscow and the 1984 edition in Los Angeles.

"A man that challenged us all to fight for sport, its primacy and its autonomy, a fight he led fearlessly from the front, creating an extraordinary sporting movement that reaches millions of people around the world.

"He was quite simply the most intuitive leader I have ever met."

Sir Craig Reedie, the former British Olympic Association chairman and an IOC member since 1994, credited Samaranch with encouraging London to bid for the 2012 Games after previous unsuccessful bids from Birmingham and Manchester.

"He was quite clear that the only British city that would win was London," recalled Reedie.

"He used to give me a hard time over Wembley because it wasn''t designed like the Stade de France (in Paris) with a running track as well."

President of France Nicolas Sarkozy lauded Samaranch''s attempts to reach out beyond national boundaries to make the Olympics a truly global event.

"A very big and very important figure, Mr Samaranch facilitated the growth in power of the Olympic movement by opening it up to every athlete and every country," said Sarkozy in a press release.

Competitors at the ATP Barcelona Open tennis tournament, which Samaranch often attended, remembered the Catalan with a minute''s silence prior to the second-round match between Spaniards David Ferrer and Marcelo Granollers.