As the 25th anniversary of the Opening Ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics looms on Tuesday (July 25), many will recall the drama of the Olympic Cauldron being lit by a single, flaming arrow dispatched from the infield by Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo.
Speaking personally, these were the first Games I covered, this was my first Opening Ceremony and I can recall the tension as this one man, clad in white, took aim. How many must have been sharing my one wish at that moment: "Please don’t miss".
Rebollo has since revealed that he learned he was to play this key role – one which was kept a closely-guarded secret – just a couple of hours beforehand. But of course, he was one of four archers who had been shortlisted from 200 original invitees who went through an extensive training for the task in varying weather conditions, with wind machines sometimes being employed to simulate turbulent conditions.
Technology was also being employed at the other end of this coup de theatre as, rather than having to land slap-bang in the cauldron, the arrow needed to be accurate enough to ignite the gas that was being shot up from the chamber and to turn it into a three-metres high flame that would burn throughout the Games.
History records the spectacle came off – as did the Games themselves.
And as it happens, all the tension about “will he, won’t he?” was unfounded – as Rebello told a subsequent NBC documentary on the Opening Ceremony.
“There were no fears. I was practically a robot," he said.
"I focused on my positioning and reaching the target. My feelings were taken from the people who described to me how they saw it. What they felt, their emotions, their cries. This is what made me realise what the moment actually meant.”
What else in the sporting world can match the mass voltage thrill of an Olympic Opening Ceremony? You may not love everything about it, but whatever happens you have the feeling that you are at the epicentre of something huge.
For some reason, my other vivid memory of that distant Opening Ceremony on Montjuic was leaving the stand to go down to the press room and glimpsing ranks of vibrantly dressed-up schoolchildren awaiting their cue to race into the arena and take part in something they would remember forever. If you could have harnessed the mass excitement of those children, you could have powered the Catalan city for the night.
Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress, was a beaming presence in the stadium, clearly expressing his satisfaction at South Africa's return to the Olympic movement after an absence of 32 years because of its apartheid policies. “I must confess that I didn't think I would ever see this day and I'm very happy it has come,” the future South African President said.
Another image that has been celebrated from that evening is that of the host’s flag being carried into the arena by the then heir to the throne, Felipe, who was a member of the Spanish sailing team, finishing sixth in the soling class.
As such, Felipe was maintaining a family tradition, as his mother (a reserve) and uncle had been on the Greek sailing team at the 1960 Rome Olympics and his father, King Juan Carlos, and sister were also Olympic sailors for Spain. Felipe, who became the King of Spain in 2014, and his crew-mates Fernando Leon and Alfred Vazquez received an Olympic diploma for their performance in the boat the heir apparent named Aifos - his mother's name in reverse.
Felipe VI will preside over a series of events on Barcelona on Tuesday commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Olympic Opening Ceremony. These are the latest manifestations of the Barcelona 1992 25th anniversary programme that has been running this year featuring school activities, sporting events and "City and Olympism" conferences.
In the morning, the monarch will attend the 30th anniversary celebration of the High Performance Center of Sant Cugat del Vallés, where he is scheduled to deliver the first speech, and in the afternoon he will visit the Palace Albéniz for a reception being held by the Barcelona City Council in honour of the 1992 Games.
This will be the fifth time that Felipe VI has travelled to Catalonia this year. He visited Barcelona in February and May and last month he was in Girona to preside over the awards ceremony of the Princesa de Girona Foundation. Since then, he has visited the military academy of Talarn.
The King’s visits takes place against a background of political volatility following the strong recent resurgence of the campaign to make Catalonia a separate state.
Political observers in Spain expect the monarch to use the memories of the Barcelona Games, a triumph of collaboration between national, regional and city governments, as a reminder of what can be achieved through unity and political consensus.
The Games were successful for the nation too in terms of medals. Spain finished sixth overall with 22 medals, including 13 golds.
But perhaps above all, the Barcelona Games came to be seen as the Regeneration Games.
In the summer of 2002, Britain's Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Tessa Jowell stood at the window on the top floor of one of Barcelona's tallest hotels. Gazing out over the city, she asked the hotel manager what the Catalan capital had been like before it got the 1992 Olympics. "It was a dump," the manager replied. "The Olympics changed everything."
But while the hotel manager believed the Games changed everything for Barcelona, it can be argued that Barcelona changed everything for the Games.
The Los Angeles Games of 1984 had marked a profound change in the history of the Olympics, bolting onto them the unheard-of possibility of financial surplus.
On the eve of the Barcelona 1992 Opening Ceremony, Spain’s then International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan-Antonio Samaranch defended the Olympic movement against the charge that they had become over-commercialised during his 12 years in office.
"Without that commercialisation, the Olympic Games would have come to an end,” he said. "It has to happen if the taxpayer is not to be faced with paying everything. It is impossible to hold sports events on this scale without it.”
But if Los Angeles 1984 proved that profit and the Games could go together, Barcelona created a new template. That of the Games as a catalyst for ambitious social change, an agent for urban transformation.
The 1992 Olympics are now widely acknowledged as transforming the landscape and infrastructure of Barcelona and re-branding a city that is now one of Europe’s most popular destinations.
I can personally vouch for that sense of a fresh new city. In 1989, in one of my earliest foreign assignments as a journalist, I covered the International Association of Athletics Federations' World Cup final in the Catalan capital. Three years later, I returned to cover the 1992 Olympics. The difference in the surroundings and atmosphere was palpable.
The World Cup competition took place in the stadium on Montjuic that would host the Olympics in 1992. The event was of high quality, despite torrential rain on the third and final night which turned the track into a paddling pool and created huge waterfalls amidst the concrete pillars of the stands.
Whereas I had taken transport up and down the hill in 1989, three years later I and my companions at the Independent went by foot. This was one of my fondest memories of my first Olympics – walking back down Montjuic via a series of terraces linked by staircases and dusty pathways amid a tide of spectators at the end of another night’s athletics at the stadium, the air still packed with heat, the lights of the city twinkling between swathes of exotic foliage.
But if Barcelona’s World Fair of 1929 had endowed Montjuic with the sumptuous Laribal Gardens, it took the Olympics to bring out the full beauty of its city centre and waterfront.
In 1992, the city seemed smarter, cleaner. There were fast new roads. The famous boulevard of La Rambla was distinctly seedy at the edges in 1989. Not so three years later, where it was a brightly lit and elegant thoroughfare.
Also in the Olympic year, there were suddenly hosts of different places to eat on the waterfront. Where had these places been hiding? They hadn’t. All were part of the huge regeneration.
Before the Games, a railway had run along the somewhat scruffy coastline. But then the Olympic Village was built and two miles of beach installed. Another mile of beach was subsequently added and the number of coastal restaurants rose to more than 70 as a new port was built.
The Games were credited with transforming the city's commercial status. In one annual report, Barcelona moved up from 11th to fourth in the European rankings for best cities to do business in. Meanwhile, the number of hotel rooms in the city more than doubled between 1990 and 2004.
The Games were also credited with giving Spanish sport a huge boost, with Rafael Nadal establishing himself at the top of the men’s game in tennis, Carlos Sastre winning the Tour de France and the national football team reigning supreme as European champions and World Cup winners in the years since the Games finished.
Many trace these successes back to Barcelona, which left an infrastructure of world-class facilities and coaching.
London’s prospective organisers made more than one trip to this Catalan city following a Games that was widely credited as being a “model Olympics".
Twenty years after the Barcelona Games, the City’s then Mayor, Xavier Trias, told the Global Sports Forum that those Olympics had “totally transformed” his city.
“We have been very committed to sport for a long, long time now,” said Trias in a report carried by the IOC website. “It all started with the 1992 Olympic Games, which totally transformed our city. There was a great effort from the city council and the society of Barcelona who really threw their weight behind the Games.
“In Barcelona, holding major sports competitions is now a key part of our development and I’m convinced that sport is the perfect way to inject life into a city, to improve its well-being and to put it on the international stage.
“The capacity for organising events in our city just grows and grows. Every weekend there is some kind of sporting event going on in Barcelona and more than 40,000 girls and boys take part in competitions organised here.”
Barcelona’s Deputy Mayor of Quality of Life, Equality and Sports Maite Fandos also hailed the positive impact of hosting the 1992 Games, highlighting the confidence and global exposure that the city gained from staging the event.
“When you see you can host an edition of the Olympic Games, and 1992 was the best in history in our view, it gives you great self-esteem,” she said. “It placed us on the world map from a sporting point-of-view and led to other events coming to the city.”
Fandos also highlighted the economic benefits that Barcelona has enjoyed as a result of the 1992 Games.
"What is amazing is the breadth of impact that the Olympic Games can have – not only as a sporting event but also in terms of economic regeneration," she said.
"They create a significant amount of jobs for local people. Equally, the Games are a unique opportunity to showcase the city to the world because hosting the Games successfully helps bring both sporting and non-sporting events to the city.
"Barcelona is the inspiration for any city holding an Olympic Games after what happened in 1992.”
In April, the Catalan Secretary General of Sport Gerard Figueras participated in the opening session of the IOC Solidarity Commission meeting and explained that, 25 years on, Barcelona still bears witness to the great legacy of the Games.
"Not only were the Barcelona Olympic Games a great example of sustainability thanks to infrastructures that are still fully functional today, but they also had a big impact on the place of sport in Catalonia," said Figueras.
“Today, 50 per cent of Catalans practise physical activity as a habit. We have 18,000 clubs and 72 federations, 450,000 students practise sport at school and the sports industry represents two per cent of the Catalan GDP."
Speaking at an event held to launch the Barcelona 1992 25th anniversary programme back in February, Ada Colau, the city’s Mayor, had said the Olympic Games Barcelona 1992 had left an indelible legacy of which the city could be proud. “Barcelona opened up to the world and, above all, to its citizens, becoming a collective project that looked both inwards and outwards," she said.
For his part, Alejandro Blanco Bravo, the President of the Spanish Olympic Committee (COE), described Barcelona 1992 as an unforgettable occasion for world sport.
"Twenty-five years on, the whole world is speaking with pride and passion about what happened," he said.