- Participating nations: 169
- Number of athletes: 9,367 (6,659 men - 2,708 women)
- Time of year: July 25 - August 9
- Number of events: 257
- Swedish medals: 1 gold, 7 silver, 5 bronze
Never before had the Olympic movement been in better shape than during the Games in Barcelona. Olympic Games in IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch´s hometown had to be a success. Everyone was there, all 169 nations, despite the war that had started in former Yugoslavia.
The IOC had chartered special planes for the teams from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia entered under the abbreviation IOP (Independent Olympic Participant).
The Soviet Union had fallen apart and been divided into several different countries. These countries came as one team called EUN (Unified Teams).
Germany had become one nation after the fall of the BerlinWall.
South Africa had been accepted back into the Olympic family. The country had participated in the Games from 1904 until 1960 when they were thrown out because of their apartheid politics. Cuba was also back after having boycotted the Games in both Los Angeles and Seoul.
Barcelona had made enormous investments in the infrastructure, which turned out to have been the right thing to do. The Games were a success for the proud Catalans and they got the opportunity to show “big brother" Madrid that their city and region could be reckoned with.
To allow the participation of the world´s most commercialized athletes, the American professional basketball players, was perhaps symptomatic of these Games.
If the boundaries between professionals and amateurs had been fuzzy before, they had now totally been wiped out.
The Best Should ParticipateSamaranch´s goal had long been that the best athletes in every sport should participate in the Olympics, with the “Dream Team" in Barcelona he was well on his way.
But there remained a few sports where the best athletes were absent, football for instance. But the basketball success in Barcelona probably led many sports federations to reconsider their standpoint. Especially considering the NBA´s smart ways of marketing itself all over the world.
The United States had missed the basketball gold medal in Seoul and the 1990 World Championship gold medal, which hurt the pride of basketball´s country of birth. Sending a bunch of college kids to bring back the Olympic gold was no longer enough. When Earvin “Magic" Johnson became the first professional basketball player to say that he wanted to experience taking an Olympic gold medal, the other top players decided to follow him. “Magic", one of the best NBA players of all times, had retired just eight months before the Olympic Games after publicly declaring that he was HIV positive. He now wanted the chance to take an Olympic gold medal before the disease got to him.
The “Dream Team" won both the gold medal and popularity. There was enormous pressure to see the professionals and the ticket sales on the black market soared. Everyone wanted tickets for the show. Because a show was exactly what it was. The team crushed their opponents, in the first game against Angola, the “Dream Team" had a 46-1 lead after 13 minutes!
Great Basketball LegendsThe “Dream Team" was one of the main features of the Games in the media. The “Dream Team" was big, but not as big as a few of the performers in the athletics arena.
Carl Lewis never got the chance to take his third straight gold medal on the 100 m. Lewis became a victim of the tough American try-outs. He had only partly recovered from an injury and took fourth place, which was only enough to put him on the relay team.
Instead the gold medal went to the Briton Linford Christie who, at age 32, became the oldest ever to take the gold medal on the prestigious distance. What´s also worth noting is that Ben Johnson was back after being expelled from the Olympics in Seoul with his body full of steroids. Now that he was clean he was going to show everyone that he could run fast without taking anything. He didn´t do very well - he was taken out in the semi-finals after getting the time 10.70 seconds, far from the 9.79 seconds he had accomplished in Seoul four years earlier.
Shocking Performance by BubkaOne of the Games´ easiest gold medals would surely go to Sergej Bubka in the pole vault.
In the final, Bubka started the competition at 5.70 m and took down the bar on both attempts. Sure, it had been a close call before in other big championships, but Bubka had been able to take control of the situation. This time he couldn´t. He saved his last jump for the 5.75 m level, mostly to calm his nerves. It was a height he would normally be able to clear in his sleep, but not so this time. Bubka was out and that was definitely the biggest sensation of the athletics competitions. That young Maksim Tarasov of the EUN was now able to take the title by clearing 5.80 was completely overshadowed by what Bubka had failed to do.
The number one golden boy of these Olympics was Russian gymnast Vitalij Sjtjebo who took six gold medals. The ladies gymnastics competition didn´t have one particular queen this time, or maybe princess is a better term to use. There was a lot of talk about “children´s gymnastics". Many people doubted that the small girls who put on such incredible performances really were 17 years old, which is what it said in their paperwork. They looked much younger.
The Swedish performance was okay. Sweden took 19th place in the ranking of the nations, one notch better than the last time. But more importantly, Sweden took a gold medal this time.
Long WaitBut the wait was long. 14 days into the Games, on August 6, it was time for the men´s table tennis singles final. The final was played before noon and was over at 11.32 a.m. Jan-Ove Waldner was then Olympic Champion after having defeated the Frenchman Jean-Philippe Gatien in three straight sets, 21-10, 21-18, 25-23.
Waldner´s road to the Olympic gold medal was marked with the signature of a champion. In seven games, he only lost one set. Winning 21 sets and losing only one tells us a great deal about his talent in a sport which had been totally dominated by the Chinese during the Games in Seoul.
Finally, Sweden had won a gold medal again. It had taken 2,917 days. That´s how long it had been since the women canoeists´ gold medals in Los Angeles.
The seven silver medals which Sweden took indicates that several athletes were close to making it all the way to the top.
The swimmer Anders Holmertz was only 14 hundredths of a second away from the gold medal on the 200 m freestyle, he was in the lead for three quarters of the race. The winner became Jevgenij Sadovij, EUN, who also made sure to stand in the way of Holmertz on the double distance. The Swede had never taken a medal on the 400 m freestyle in a big competition before. Here too, Holmertz was in the lead for a long time, until after the last turn before he was passed by Sadovij and Kieren Perkins, Australia.
But there would be one more medal for Holmertz:
In the 4x200 m relay, Sweden was a medal candidate and had the second best qualifying time. In the final, Holmertz was the second swimmer for the Swedish team and took the team from sixth to first place. A while later the Swedes would finish the relay as silver medallists. The EUN took the gold, but the Swedes were able to stay ahead of the Americans who missed the gold on the distance for the third time since 1920.
What was remarkable about the swimming events in Barcelona was Germany´s big step backward. The Germans took a total of 27 points compared to the combined results, 74 points, by the East and West Germans in 1988.
Three Canoeing MedalsBut the canoeing events did not involve a step back for the Germans. Germany was the best nation in this event and took 75 points, 40 more than Hungary in second place.
Sweden took three medals, and 16 points, in canoeing which made canoeing the second best Swedish event after swimming. Agneta Andersson and Susanne Gunnarsson took the silver in the women´s K2 500 m. They were beaten by the Germans by only eleven hundredths of a second, in a dramatic spurt duel. In the women´s K4 500 m, Sweden took the bronze medal. What about the men? Well, Gunnar Olsson and Kalle Sundqvist took the silver in the K2 1,000 m. After having taken fifth place on half the distance, hopes were high that they might even be able to take the gold medal on the 1,000 meters. But they were no match for the strong German pair Bluhm and Gutsche.
The Swedish wrestlers took a silver and a bronze medal. Silver in the super heavyweight through Tomas Johansson. He lost a match in the beginning of the tournament and had to win all the remaining matches to get to the final where he had to wrestle the Games´ most “given" gold medallist, Alexandr Karelin.
Karelin the ImpossibleTomas wrestled to the best of his ability and made it to the final. Before meeting the impossible Karelin, Tomas tried preparing for the match a little differently. Tomas had never scored a single point against Karelin, and he wasn´t successful this time either. It was over after one minute and 33 seconds, when Tomas´s shoulder blades were both touching the mat.In the 74 kg class Sweden took a bronze through Torbjörn Kornbakk. Kornbakk lost his pool-final against the Pole Józef Tracz by a fall. Tracz went on to take the silver medal. In the fall, Kornbakk suffered a bad foot injury, but was still able to wrestle for, and win, the bronze.
The Swedish "habit" of taking medals early on in the Games, in the shooting events, continued in Barcelona. This time, Ragnar Skanåker took a bronze, but one more point in the final would have given him the gold. Instead, the gold medal went to the 16-year-old Belorussian Konstantin Lukatsjik. The gold and bronze medallists were separated by only one point, but by as much as 42 years in age!
Sweden took one athletics medal through Patrik Sjöberg in the high jump. It became his third straight Olympic medal.
The high jump competition was a real thriller. Sjöberg cleared 2.31 m in his first jump, and only five contestants remained on the 2.34 m level. Javier Sotomayor, Cuba, slid over the bar in his first attempt while Sjöberg and the others cleared the height in their second attempts.
All would be decided on the 2.37 m level. But that turned out to be too high for all of them. Some were really close, especially Arthur Partyka, Poland. Instead, Partyka had to share the bronze medal with Forsythe, from Australia, and Conway, from the United States. Sotomayor took the gold medal and Sjöberg took the silver.
Sweden participated in two large team sports - football (soccer) and handball.
Golden ExpectationsThe Swedish team was one of the favorites in the handball tournament after having won the World Championship in 1990 by beating the Soviet Union in the final. The Spanish home team was also one of the candidates for the gold in the Olympic tournament. But Spain lost its first game against France, the French won by 18-16. The Spanish team never quite recovered from the blow and didn´t make it to the semi-finals. Sweden played France in one of the semi-finals and was finally able to beat the French by 24-22 after running into some occasional trouble.
In the final against the EUN, which was basically the same team as in the 1990 World Championship final, it looked as if the Swedes had taken control of the game when the score was 14-12 and the EUN had one man in the “penalty box". But Sweden was unable to finish the game in the same way they had started it and the EUN advanced to a 24-22 victory.
In the football tournament, Sweden met Australia in the quarter finals. The odds were in Sweden´s favor before the game, but well into the second half of the game, the Australians were in the lead by 2-0. Sweden was able to reduce the lead when there was 30 minutes left of the game, and that marked the beginning of a period of intensely offensive play by the Swedes. But Sweden never scored that much needed second goal and was consequently out of the tournament.