120 years, 120 stories (Part 49) : Thomas Bach, the Olympic gold medalist IOC President


In today’s edition of our Olympic Diaries – commemorating 120 years of the modern-day Games with 120 such exciting stories – we bring to you the story of an Olympic gold medalist who later went on to become the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Thomas Bach who is now the current IOC President was a gold medalist in the 1976 Montreal Olympics as part of the victorious West German foil team in fencing. The German who used to prefer being a professional footballer was forced against his wishes by his parents into fencing. However, the 22-year old German was an integral part of the Olympic gold winning team – Bach won most of his bouts in the competition, especially he came too good against the Soviet and the Italian fencers in the semi-final and the final respectively.

After his Olympic triumph, Bach – who also has a degree in law under his belt – Bach competed in the World Championship in Buenos Aires the following year where he was crowned the World Champion. However by this time, the German thought he had had enough in his professional career and decided to take part in various governing bodies related to sports. He maintains that the West German government’s resolution of staying away from the Moscow Games in 1980 was the biggest factor that propelled him into active sports politics.

In 1981 along with the notable British track and field personality Sebastian Coe, Bach became the first of the few athletes to make an address in the IOC Congress. In 1990, Bach, 37 then, became a member of the IOC. He also headed the German Olympic Sports Confederation and is also a member of it currently of its esteemed Presidential Board. In 1996, Bach was promoted to the IOC Executive Board and then became the Vice-President of IOC four years later. In 2004, he was re-elected for the post of Vice-President till he succeeded Belgian sports administrator and former Olympic sailor Jacques Rogge as the President of the IOC.

In the battle to the Presidency, Bach put his hat into the ring very late after being in the defensive in putting his right foot ahead – the reason perhaps to be watchful of his opponents for the plum post. On 10th September 2013, Bach was elected as the President after he polled 49 votes in the second round giving him a clear majority in a six-man fight which included two former Olympic medalists – Ukraine’s pole vaulter Sergey Bubka and Swiss rower Denis Oswald. In this process, Bach became the third Olympian after American athlete Avery Brundage and outgoing Rogge to head the IOC and the first ever Olympic medalist at the helm of the world body.

The IOC President whose election slogan was “Unity in Diversity” believed in keeping good relations with his opponents once the battle is over – as he revoked his golden moments from Olympic career of being very much friends the fencers whom he faced as opponents at the Games. The well-versed and man with a clean image, the German is looked by many to tackle strongly the negativities associated with the Games and its international committee.

His primary concerns should be de-politicization of sports to save autonomy of the federations across the globe, stronger doping and graft measures, transparency in bidding procedures and introduction of new sports into the quadrennial event. One of his first moves included making a few changes in the bidding process so as to provide the host city with much of a breather.

Photo by Doha Stadium Plus