Freddy Mercury didn’t live long enough to perform his duet with Montserrat Caballé at the opening ceremony of the 1992 Olympics, but their tribute to Barcelona, from which I stole my title, proved prophetic, for one of the most enduring images from the games was from the diving pool where the hilltop setting created an illusion of athletes diving from an even greater height because the horizon revealed the city far below.
Montjuic, where the games were hosted is a pleasant area with lush vegetation seemingly spreading in all directions. The statue of an athlete bearing an Olympic torch hints that there is more beyond the trees however. Whilst not the only part of the city to host Olympic sports, the Olympic Stadium (since renamed in honour of a Catalan leader executed here in 1940) is one of the main reasons to climb the hill.
This is stadium where Sally Gunnell and Linford Christie found glory, and Derek Redmond found tragedy in the heady days when only 5 athletes failed drug tests (though that probably says more about the quality of testing than sporting ethics). The building has it’s own story to tell however.
Unlike the games in Beijing or London, or those to come next year in Rio, Barcelona didn’t build a new stadium to host the games. They recycled one! The structure was originally built in 1927 ahead of the International Exposition that took place in the city two year later, with the intention of hosting the games in 1936. What’s more, when Berlin was announced as the host city for that event, Barcelona planned a rival People’s Olympiad in protest against the Nazi regime. In a bitter irony, those games never took place because of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Franco’s nationalist regime lasted far longer than Hitler’s
Half a century later democracy was back in favour and the games arrived in Barcelona.
The Olympic park is certainly impressive but I had a disappointment on my visit. The pool was closed to visitors forcing me to peer through fencing to see that beautiful horizon. It just wasn’t the same.
That and the empty stadium gave a sense of abandonment. I hope they don’t have to wait another six decades to feel loved again.