July 25, 1992 was the day that Barcelona dressed up and greeted the world. Literally. It was a few minutes after eight at night when eight hundred people jumped into the center of the Olympic Stadium to form the word ‘HELLO’ with their bodies. Thus began the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympic Games, an event that marked the history of the Catalan capital.
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The Olympics changed the urban planning of the city and led to the modernization of its infrastructure. But, above all, they generated common frameworks that have transcended generations and are shared, even by those who were not yet born. Now that those games are 30 years old, many look back and remember where they were and what they were doing the night Antonio Rebollo shot the arrow that lit the Olympic cauldron, becoming the man who would start the Games.
Rebollo became an icon, as were Marián Aguilar, the teenager who transported the Olympic flame by boat, or the 102,000 volunteers who made the Games possible. His faces remained to be remembered, frozen in that summer of ’92, but their lives continued, bringing success in some cases, disappointment in others and, in almost all, nostalgia. What has become of them 30 years later? Here are some of their stories.
Antonio Rebollo, the goalkeeper who parked the goal
At 10 p.m. on July 25, the lights of the Estadi Olímpic went out to let the Olympic flame shine, lit at the tip of goalkeeper Antonio Rebollo’s arrow. He was responsible for lighting the cauldron thanks to a shot that drew a perfect parabola. This is the story that everyone knows and that was broadcast on television for six million people. But what so many people no longer know is that that number marked the end of Rebollo’s sports career.
In order to make the perfect shot, he had to train for months with a different bow than his own, capable of projecting a heavier, flaming arrow. That made him lose the technique that he had and, with it, the possibility of participating in the Olympic Games that he himself inaugurated. Even so, Rebollo, who suffered damage to his legs due to polio that he suffered as a child, did participate in the Paralympic Games that year, winning a bronze medal. It was the last.
“My possibilities diminished when they chose me for the inauguration. I went from being an athlete to being ‘the goalkeeper’ and all my previous efforts and achievements ceased to exist”, laments Rebollo. He no longer competed and his relationship with the sport was limited to promoting archery. “Except for anniversaries, my life is like anyone else’s: work, family and the occasional little wine,” he says, laughing.
Now, at 67 years old, he continues to dedicate himself to cabinetmaking, a job that has accompanied him since he was 14. “I don’t know how to do anything else,” says this archer, who never made a living from sports. After 30 years, it is not difficult for him to admit that he felt abandoned by the sports community and by his federation. “No one remembered me after that day,” he laments. In spite of everything, he assures that he does not regret “at all” having participated in the Olympic Games.
Marián Aguilera, a boat bound for Los Angeles
In order for Antonio Rebollo to shoot the arrow impregnated with the Olympic fire, the flame had to travel long kilometers to reach Barcelona. One of those responsible for shortening that path was Marián Aguilera, a 15-year-old teenager who captivated an entire generation. Dressed in white and with her red hair cutting the sunset, she met the frigate that had transported the fire from Greece at sea. And, in the hands of Aguilera, the flame reached the Costa Brava.
“I was floating in the high seas for a long time. And when I got to the shore, there were all those people… There was no rehearsal for that,” she recalls. Despite her nerves and “the tremendous pressure”, that teenager managed to bring fire to her destiny and began one of the most special summers of her life. She was one of those girl actresses who had done commercials, theater and a little bit on television, “but the Olympics was something else. It was more imposing and I had to make a lot of efforts to keep my feet on the ground, ”she acknowledges.
The helicopters, the cameras, the waiting people… All of this moved her so much that that afternoon she decided that yes, she wanted to dedicate her life to acting. Marián Aguilera fulfilled that wish and, a few years after that July afternoon, she was a regular on the Spanish screens with roles in ‘When leaving class’ or ‘Paco’s men’.
But a few years ago, Marián Aguilera began to lack work, so she decided to move to Los Angeles. “The profession is experienced here with tremendous passion and I want to be with people who feel the same way about acting as I do,” he explains by phone. He arrived five years ago and assures that he has no plans to return. “I will return, but I don’t know if definitively. In any case, I am not sure that there are definitive places”, says the Catalan, with a smiling voice.
100,000 volunteers, the muscle of the Games
Rebeca Guillén gets very emotional when she remembers the Olympic Games. She was 12 years old in 1992 and was aware that she was experiencing a historic event. But, unlike most people, she did not experience it through television, but in her own flesh. She was one of the 102,000 volunteers who made the Olympics possible. Her mission was to throw herself into the sea of bodies that the Fura dels Baus theater company coordinated at the Estadi Olímpic to recreate the journey of Jason and the Argonauts through the Mediterranean.
Rebeca, who played a rower, became a volunteer thanks to a poster she saw in the gym where she skated. A call from her mother responding to her announcement was the beginning of three years of rehearsals, during which she traveled to the outskirts of Barcelona every weekend to practice her number. “It was hard: many hours, with very demanding people. At that time I saw it as a game, but as an adult I understand that coordinating so many people is very difficult and everything had to be perfect”, she points out.
Despite the pressure, Rebeca assures that the rehearsals were a very special time, in which she made great friends. But three decades later, she has none of those contacts. “There were no cell phones or social networks. That’s why I don’t miss any of the volunteer meetings”, she says, referring to the sessions organized by Volunteers 2000, a foundation created by Joan Sonet. Its job is to bring together the volunteers of those Olympics and make it easier for them to continue participating in other sporting events. “A lot is said, but without us, without the volunteers, who put our soul and will, the Games would not have been the same,” Rebeca stresses.
The Olympics, a door to politics
The Spanish medal table was settled in 1992 with 22 medals. Those games were a springboard for many athletes, but not only as far as the tracks are concerned. Some of them left the stadiums to enter the parliaments. An example is that of Theresa Zabell, who won a gold in sailing to, seven years later, become an MEP for the Popular Party.
Another who changed the third was Fermín Cacho, the protagonist of a mythical photograph. He was the first Spanish medalist from those games, crossing the 1,500m finish with an expression of surprise that has become iconic. His sports career continued until, in 2003, he joined the PSOE to enter the Andújar council.
Returning to the PP, the case of the judoka Míriam Blasco stands out, the first Spanish woman to win a gold medal, who became a senator of the party in 2000. But Blasco was a pioneer in other aspects of her life. She had a relationship with fellow judoka Alfredo Aracil, although by 1992 she had deteriorated. A year after the Olympics, she started dating Nicola Fairbrother, the woman with whom she played the Judo final in Barcelona. Blasco made this relationship public in 2017, which led to some controversy because, twelve years earlier, she had voted against the same-sex marriage law. She assured that she did it to follow party discipline.