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Former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch Dies

Former International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Antonio Samaranch has died at age 89 of a heart ailment. Samaranch transformed the Olympic Games into a major commercial enterprise and put them on the global map, but the era of his presidency was also dogged by controversy.

Juan Antonio Samaranch was president of the IOC from 1980 until 2001.

Canadian IOC member Richard Pound worked with him throughout those 21 years.

"I think he will go down in history as one of the three great presidents certainly in the first 100 or so years of the IOC," said Pound. "There was de Coubertin who started the whole thing, there was Avery Brundage who saved it during the cold war era, and Samaranch who got it, if you like, from the 19th century into the 21st century."

Samaranch is considered the driving force behind turning the Olympic Games into a popular, commercial, and global event.

When he came to power the IOC was in bad shape financially and politically. The 1976 Games had left Montreal with a billion-dollar debt and the games were tarnished by Cold War boycotts of the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles games.

But Samaranch turned the IOC into a financially independent organization with billions of dollars in commercial revenues - and an audience that reaches every corner of the world.

Pound says the momentum was created in large part by Samaranch's leadership.

"You had a very good feeling for what it was you were all trying to do together and I think that is a sign of a particularly good leader," added Pound.

Samaranch's presidency, though, was also marred by controversy. He was criticized for serving the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in Spain in the 1960s and '70s. And his critics also said the games had become over-commercialized and riddled with performance-enhancing drugs during his leadership.

The biggest scandal came in 1998 when IOC members were accused of taking bribes during Utah's bid to secure the 2002 Winter Games. The Salt Lake City scandal ended in the sacking of six IOC members and the resignation of another four.

"That kind of stuck to Samaranch because he was the president," explained Pound. "And I think the same way you get credit for a lot of the good things that happen, sometimes you have to take the heat for things that go wrong, even though you were not personally responsible in any of the wrong doing."

George Washington University Olympic Scholar Lisa Delpy Neirotti says Samaranch's lasting legacy is the diversity he brought to the games. He brought women into the IOC fold, she says, and always ensured funds were available to support countries and athletes in financial need.

"He felt that the more countries that we can get involved participating in the Olympic games helped to meet the mission of the Olympics, which is to bring people together from all parts of the world to improve relations and to make the world a healthier place," explained Neirotti.

Samaranch struggled with health problems during the past decade. Despite advancing age and regular hospitalization, he remained strongly involved in the IOC after his retirement in 2001. He campaigned to bring the Olympic Games to Madrid in 2012 and 2016 - but both times the Spanish capital lost its bid.

Pound says Samaranch attended the Olympic Games to the very end.

"He was in Vancouver earlier this year," noted Pound. "He looked a little fragile, but he was there and I think he always enjoyed the Olympic games - why not? That is something to which he has devoted a huge percentage of his adult life."

Samaranch is survived by his two children, his son Juan Antonio Jr. - a member of the IOC - and daughter Maria Teresa, as well as his partner Luisa Sallent. His wife, Maria Teresa, died from cancer in 2000.