April 22 - Jacques Rogge, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), today led the tributes to his predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch, as his coffin draped with the Olympic flag was wheeled into the Catalonia state headquarters in Barcelona today to the sound of the Olympic hymn.

The private procession was watched by the Spaniard's family and international figures and dignitaries, including London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe, ahead of Samaranch's funeral later in the day.

Rogge claimed Samaranch made the Olympics "the premiere sporting event in the world."

He added: "We've come from the four corners of the world to say farewell to an old friend and great man.

"Juan Antonio Samaranch was the most influential President after our founder Pierre de Coubertin."

The 89-year-old Samaranch, who was president of the IOC from 1980 to 2001, died yesterday.

Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., his daughter Maria Teresa and other family members watching with about 100 others, Rogge paid tribute to a "generous, compassionate man."

He said: "Behind a great man there is a rich personality.

"He was a man of few words but each of these words would resonate loudly and were always meaningful."

Rogge promised to ensure that Samaranch's spirit lived on within the IOC.

He said: "He has left a great legacy. And I pledge in the name of the International Olympic Committee that we shall preserve and perpetuate his legacy and his heritage.

"On behalf of the Olympic movement I would like to express my warm condolences to the family - you have lost a beloved father and grandfather; Spain has lost an illustrious son; the Olympic movement has lost a leader, a mentor and a friend."

The coffin was draped with the Olympic flag. Samaranch's daughter Maria Teresa placed a single red rose over the flag.

In the condolence book placed near the coffin, many left messages expressing their gratitude to Samaranch for helping to bring the Olympics to Barcelona in 1992, an event which is credited with transforming the port city.

"Thank you for putting Barcelona on the world map," read one anonymous message.

Crown Prince Felipe called Samaranch a "colossal figure" in Spanish sports and a "universal" figure in world sports.

Rogge (pictured) said that Samaranch had rescued the IOC from financial ruin when he took over in 1980 to the richest sports event in the world covted by all the great cities around the globe.

He said: "He made the Games what they are today: the premiere sporting event in the world.

"He had the wisdom to modify and change the IOC itself and make it a modern, transparent, representative and financially independent organisation."

Among those who attended the private ceremony ahead of the funeral were Coe, International Association Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Lamine Diack, IOC vice-president Thomas Bach, and FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta.

Spanish cyclist Miguel Indurain and tennis players Albert Costa and Emilio Sanchez Vicario were among the other dignataries present at the ceremony.

Samaranch's coffin was surrounded by dozens of wreaths, including one of bright red roses sent by Cuban President Raul Castro and his brother Fidel.

Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia were expected later to attend the funeral, which is due to start at 6pm in Barcelona.

The crowd stood to pay its respects to the closed coffin after listening to "Amigos para Siempre" (Friends For Life) by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was played throughout the 1992 Games.

Samaranch's daughter said it was one of her father's favorite songs.

Maria Teresa said: "He was happy to defend the values of sport.

"Sport always was and will always be representative in our lives.

"That always made him happy and it makes us happy, too."

Spanish newspapers all paid tribute to Samaranch this morning.

"Good-bye to the champion of the modern Olympics," wrote top-selling daily el Pais while sports daily Marca wrote: "Immortal Samaranch".

"Good-bye to the lord of the rings," wrote centre-right daily El Mundo in a reference to the five interlocking rings that are the symbol of the Olympics.

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