Gold and Other Olympic Currency

July 26, 1992

Atlanta, take notes:

Barcelona is the right venue for this Olympics. The $8 billion or

so spent to spruce it up fits the development that the least-known of the great cities of the Mediterranean was undertaking. The road-building, new squares, clearing of derelict waterfront, even the renovation of the stadium built in 1929 in a failed bid for the Games, were needed. The Olympics speeded and focused what, otherwise, made good sense.

Barcelona is in transition:

* From Spain's gritty and disloyal second city, home of every rebel movement against central power, where people may speak Spanish but think in Catalan. Under the Franco dictatorship when Spain's economy was moribund, beautiful Barcelona's growth was stunted, its thoughts censore, its creative people exiled.

* To the sparkling jewel of the New Europe. Spain, and particularly Catalonia, are big beneficiaries from the coming-together of the European maket this year. Barcelona is a central industrial port. Like other small nationalities, Catalans were in a great nation state but flourish in the European Community.

So the development to host the Olympic Games fit the agenda of city, region and nation. Pasqual Maragall, the mayor who spent four months at the Johns Hopkins University in 1978, is a student of Baltimore's redevelopment. Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former Spanish diplomat, devoted his 12 years as International Olympic committee president to bringing the Games to his Catalan home. The show helps Barcelona's bid to become the bid to become the banking center of the monetary union envisioned in the Treaty of Maastricht.

Atlanta's hosting of the 1996 Games is not modeled on Barcelona, but on Lops Angeles 1984. L.A. wasn't growing; it was grown. Its organizers moved the Games away from municipal socialism and into entrepreneurship. The Olympic ideal has never been the same. In a post-statist age, the ideal is corporate sponsor ship and mutual exploitation. That is the official dogma of the '92 Olympics.

In nothing is this more visible than television, particularly the $401 million that NBC paid for the U.S. rights. The 161 hours that NBC is beaming free to all Americans will be taped and edited to advertisers' needs. For $125, the network combines with Cablevision Systems to offer 15 days of ad-free live coverage on three channels. The Triplecast is the true demonstration sport of the 25th Olympiad.

Then there are the athletes who hope for sponsors and careers. Belarus athletes study how Americans do it. The era of U.S. emulation of Soviet statism in sport is gone. As With missiles, the Soviets outspent us to oblivion, and we were the last to see the folly of their ways. The commercial game endures. The 25th Olympics will decide many rivalries, but not which is the best sneaker or airline. That competition goes on in perpetuity.

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