Samaranch's last days fittingly marked by sports

Updated: April 21, 2010, 10:36 AM ET
Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain -- Juan Antonio Samaranch's final moments of consciousness were spent watching tennis, a fitting end for a person who was once among the most powerful in sports.

The former president of the International Olympic Committee, who died Wednesday from cardiac arrest after being admitted to a hospital three days earlier, had been watching Rafael Nadal win the Monte Carlo Masters on television Sunday when his steady decline took hold.

"He was feeling fine. There was nothing out of the ordinary," Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. said of his father, who was 89. "He watched Nadal's match -- he loved tennis -- and after the game he wasn't feeling great so we decided to come (to the hospital) around 6 or 7 at night.

"Then he collapsed. They stabilized him but he never came out. And that was the last time he was conscious."

Samaranch was having trouble breathing, so his daughter, Maria Teresa, took him to Quiron Hospital, where he lost consciousness only 20 minutes after arrival.

"He was in good health right up until then. I remember he was happy, having just watched the tennis," Quiron chief of internal medicine Rafael Esteban told The Associated Press. "But things quickly deteriorated from there."

Samaranch was sedated and put on a respirator, but his organs quickly shut down.

"Once that starts, it's hard for anyone to recover," Esteban said.

Although doctors gave him a chance of recovery after he survived for 48 hours, Samaranch's condition worsened through Tuesday night. By Wednesday morning, a turnaround would be a miracle.

"Once you go into irreversible shock, there's no alternate interpretation or way of reading those words -- they are just those," Esteban said. "At that point, any recovery would have left him in a coma. He would not have come out."

Samaranch, who headed the IOC from 1980-2001, had been bothered by health problems in recent years. But even those previous hospital visits didn't make it any easier for Juan Antonio Jr.

"It's the first time I go through this, losing a father, and it's not easy," he said. "If there is a good way to die, I guess it was this way. He had a full life and career."

Spain quickly began mourning Samaranch, who was described as a great innovator and a landmark figure in the world of international sports.

"I sincerely believe we have lost a reference point for world sport," Spanish sports secretary Jaime Lissavetzky said.

Spanish Olympic Committee president Alejandro Blanco called it "a day of sorrow and mourning for Spain."

IOC president Jacques Rogge, Samaranch's successor, is one of the many dignitaries expected to attend Thursday's funeral in Barcelona.

"I cannot find the words to express the distress of the Olympic family," Rogge said. "I am personally deeply saddened by the death of the man who built up the Olympic Games of the modern era, a man who inspired me, and whose knowledge of sport was truly exceptional."

Condolences also poured in from Spanish culture minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde, and from soccer clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid. Samaranch was a member of Madrid since 1940.

Juan Antonio Jr., speaking less than an hour after his father's death, said he left an important mark in the world of sports.

"It's not to me to say how he should be remembered. He will have his place in history," the son said. "I think he's been very recognized in life and that will only grow with his death."

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Associated Press Writer Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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