x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The spirit of '92 still smoulders

Whatever inspired and inspiring sort thought up the setting for 1992 Barcelona pretty much epitomised the quirky verve of the great city by the sea.

US diver Marie Ellen Clark, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, soars over the Barcelona skyline in one of the most picture-perfect moments of any Olympics.
US diver Marie Ellen Clark, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, soars over the Barcelona skyline in one of the most picture-perfect moments of any Olympics.

Arguably the most beautiful backdrop in Olympic history was Barcelona, 1992, diving.

From the top of Montjuic, the hill abutting the city, the divers would launch themselves upwards as divers tend to do, and the photographers would swoon as photographers yearn to do.

For a sterling moment the frame would show no diving board, no pool and one soaring diver, look like a Photoshop image on the Barcelona skyline.

Only Photoshop was a nascent software in those archaic times.

These photos were legitimate.

On the first Monday of those Olympics, the venue featured an especially ingenious level of genius in the form of Fu Mingxia, the Chinese platform wonder who would not turn 14 until the ensuing month. She won gold, and somebody asked about her musical tastes, and she blurted a word that sounded like "Niagara".

In the earphones, the interpreter cleared it up.

"Madonna," she said.

Fu had gone about her near-perfection in the sun in a scene so runaway-enchanting, you might think you had have one of those reputed fainting spells of people witnessing excessive beauty.

Was it real? Sure. I guess. Whatever inspired and inspiring sort thought up the setting pretty much epitomised the quirky verve of the great city by the sea.

And so 20 years later, if you stomped up Montjuic and saw everything again, as I did last week, you might have thought about Olympics lasting only 17 days. There go years of preparation, day-to-day to week-to-week to month-to-month, all building toward this blurry bang that comes and goes in a snap, so that if you revisit the setting 20 years later, it seems ...

What?

For one thing, it seems there's a thriving life up there on Montjuic above Barcelona. It is so pleasant you might want to live up there were there any flats or residences.

The Olympic swimming venue, separate up the road from the diving venue, has become a bustling gym with pools indoors and outdoors, and you can swim outdoors in the very pool in which the competitors swam, even if you can't even butterfly at all, let alone come close to matching the great American 1992 gold medallist and gifted comic Melvin Stewart.

(During a lull in his news conference in 1992, Stewart noted that no questions seemed impending, so he would give reporters a respite, take over and ask a question. Turning to the 17-year-old New Zealand silver medallist Danyon Loader, Stewart said: "Do you fear me?")

There is a museum, as well there should be for absolutely one of the best Olympics ever, a marvel of charm and historical awakening. Outside the museum, there's even a billboard showing Cobi, the adorable Barcelona '92 mascot, a reminder of the pep of a city that felt it reintroduced itself to the world at that time, well before Lionel Messi et al did so anew.

(Myself, back then: "You know, some people don't like Cobi." The American sportswriter SL Price: "Well, some people don't like life.")

The Olympic stadium still looks gorgeous if a trifle dated and pre-big video screen. Tourists still enter through one end, stand on the veranda and pose for photographs in front of the green expanse. A gift shop and a little cafe still operate within the stadium. While standing in the allowed viewing area, you would be beneath the towering cauldron, the recipient of, in my view, the most pressurised sporting achievement ever.

(As the Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo prepared to fire his burning arrow upwards into the cauldron and a stadium prepared to discontinue breathing momentarily, the question that came would remain for 20 years at least: what if he missed, in front of the whole world? What if his arrow actually ascended over the stadium only to descend outside on to the pavement and impale some unsuspecting tourist?)

Montjuic still brims with life, all told. The Palau San Jordi coliseum holds a bevy of sporting events including a US-Spain basketball exhibition last week. The concerts at the open-air architecture museum Poble Espanyol included the Beach Boys last week, with the crowd including the US Olympic basketball player Kevin Love, whose uncle, Mike Love, sings "I Get Around" and so on.

It is just that on a recent early evening, you might have finished at the gym and walked to the diving venue and looked out again.

You might have seen the gorgeous city shimmering but the pool area deserted utterly.

And you might have thought about the strange human habit of spending years and constructing buildings and spending fortunes for something that lasts 17 days.

You might have thought of Fu and 1992 and all that singular energy, and by contrast the present might have seemed just ever so slightly melancholy.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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