BARCELONA '92 OLYMPICS : They Find Plenty of Pomp, Under Best of Circumstances : Politics: A record 32 VIPs bask in the glow of nationalism--and publicity's flame--at opening ceremony.


Now, let the names begin.

If you thought the parade of athletes was long, you should have seen the stand of VIPs.

Never have so many heads of state and government turned up for an Olympic inaugural: 32 by official count. On an incendiary and historic Saturday night, they flanked the velvet Spanish royal box with eminence. They were by turns impressed and imposing, a static counterpoint to the free-style fiesta on the field below.

There were kings and sheikhs; presidents, an emperor's son, princes galore. Field-tested democrats from continents rich and poor, a polished bishop, a quiet African revolutionary and a bearded Caribbean dictator.

Why had they come? As national representatives, foremost. But who among them would object to an instant of reflected glory as the camera flashed from marching young people to their national leader? Even Fidel Castro was seen to smile as a Cuban delegation took center stage.

They came for a good time. And they surrendered to the excitement and pride of that Olympic moment when all countries are equally great.

Maybe it was the light that made it look as though Mexican President Carlos Salinas, on his feet and clapping hard, also was blinking too fast as his jaunty, chanting countrymen filed by.

But there was no hiding the prideful tears of a princess sister as Spain's Prince Felipe de Borbon climaxed the parade at the red and gold head of the host delegation.

Nelson Mandela, head of the African National Congress who had heard accounts of so many Olympics through prison bars, watched this one begin from a seat not far from King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain and International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch, home in triumph to his native Barcelona.

"It is not important whether the person carrying the flag is black or white. I hope that when our athletes parade in the opening ceremony, they will get one of the loudest ovations," Mandela said on a visit to the Olympic Village earlier Saturday.

When South Africa's integrated team marched into the arena as darkness fell, Jan Tau, a black man, carried the flag. The stadium rang with cheers.

Spain ensured a good VIP turnout for the opening by scheduling a two-day summit of Ibero-American nations in Madrid on Olympic eve.

The summit ended Friday night, and on Saturday Spain shuttled the participants to the show in Barcelona. So is it that most of the presidents at the ceremony were Central and South American.

In one well-guarded VIP section, Castro, in his comandante's uniform, sat with summit confreres from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Mixed among the New Worlders was President Francois Mitterand of France and the presidents of Germany, Estonia and Hungary.

Mexico's Salinas sat in a cosmopolitan section with the 300-pound president of the Italian senate, the Catholic archbishop who is co-prince of the mountain enclave of Andorra, the presidents of Honduras, Panama, Uruguay, Nicaragua and Paraguay, the king of Malaysia and the president of the European parliament. The Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg applauded with royal aplomb as their nation's nine athletes passed in review.

Royal watchers focused on a VIP box that featured two Spanish princes and princes from Japan, Thailand, Belgium and Luxembourg, together with the Sheikh of Qatar, the president of the European Community, the vice prime minister of divorcing Czechoslovakia, and the vice president of Iran. Britain's Princess Anne cheered her countrymen on at a lunch for which she dressed in the team's uniform.

The VIPs were a diverse bunch, but some instincts are international: once the parade of athletes was over, many of them slipped away to beat the traffic.

The United States sent no official but didn't really need to. Parade-stopping Magic Johnson and his NBA friends down on the field drew more attention and more cheers than the other foreign VIPs put together.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World