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IOC president Bach returns to city where he won Olympic gold in 1976

07/09/2015 01:14 EDT | Updated 07/09/2016 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said it was almost like a homecoming.

The German lawyer who succeeded Jacques Rogge at the head of the Olympic movement in 2013 made his first trip back to the city where he won a fencing gold medal for West Germany in the team foil event at the 1976 Games on Thursday.

Bach did not make any major pronouncements, and turned aside a question on a potential bid by Toronto for the 2024 Summer Games, in a visit marked mainly by nostalgia and a show of support for Canada's Olympic athletes and officials.

It started with being named an honorary citizen of Montreal and being given a key to the city by mayor Denis Coderre at a City Hall ceremony.

"As you can imagine, my emotions are strong this morning," said Bach. "I'm very pleased to receive this distinction from the city where I achieved my dream a certain time ago.

"It is like the emotions I felt on 25 July, 1976 when, with my teammates, I won the gold medal in foil a few kilometres from here at the University of Montreal."

Bach later addressed a fund-raising luncheon, spoke at the University of Montreal (where fencing was held in 1976), and was to unveil the Olympic rings logo atop the new offices of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Nearly 300 past and current Olympians took part in what the COC dubbed Canada Olympic Excellence Day.

Bach said he didn't want to talk about a possible Toronto bid with attention focused on events in Montreal. Toronto, which lost bids for the 1996 and 2008 Games, would be up against Paris, Budapest, Rome, Hamburg and possibly Boston for the 2024 Games.

"What I can say, and this is true for both Montreal and Toronto and all of Canada, is that Canada is a great sports country," he said. "I can only say Canada has all the assets to organize Olympic Games and I hope very much that the Olympic Games will one day come back to Canadian soil."

His 30-minute speech to a packed luncheon centred on the Olympic 2020 Agenda adopted unanimously by IOC members last August. The agenda focused on sustainability, leaving a legacy and on athletes needs and rights, as well as promoting youth participation in sports.

"The athletes' experience is the core of any Games and it is the recipe for the success of an Olympic Games," said Bach, before turning toward COC president Marcel Aubut and adding with a grin "this is what we're asking now from potential candidate cities, and maybe, Marcel, you can already start thinking a little bit."

Support from athletes for the reform-minded president was clear from their frequent applause, although they saved their standing ovations for when Bach introduced the star of the 1976 Games, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, and German figure skater Katarina Witt.

American Greg Louganis, who won diving silver as a 16-year-old in 1976, was also there.

Bach is not the usual, staid IOC president. At City Hall, he choked back tears when he mentioned his wife.

"What's a change for me is I actually saw the president of the IOC tear up at the podium," said Mark Tewksbury, the 1992 backstroke gold medallist. "I don't think I've ever seen the president of the IOC show any emotion, so I have to say I'm positive toward Thomas Bach and his human-ness."

Montreal is the first city outside of IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, to be given the right to display the Olympic Rings.

Bach was in Toronto earlier in the week and was to return there for the opening ceremonies of the Pan AM games on Friday night.

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