Olympics: Bach overwhelmed at winning IOC president vote

Outgoing International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge (right) stands with Thomas Bach of Germany after he was elected the ninth president of the IOC during a vote in Buenos Aires, Sept 10, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Outgoing International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge (right) stands with Thomas Bach of Germany after he was elected the ninth president of the IOC during a vote in Buenos Aires, Sept 10, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) - Thomas Bach fulfilled a long-held dream on Tuesday as he was elected to the most powerful position in sport, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in Buenos Aires.

The 59-year-old German - the first Olympic gold medallist to become president - won in the second round of voting by his fellow IOC members to beat five male rivals bidding to succeed Jacques Rogge, who stepped down after 12 years in charge.

Mr Bach polled 49 votes in the second round to achieve the majority, with only Puerto Rican banker Richard Carrion getting into double figures with a respectable 29.

Athletics legend Sergey Bubka was humiliated as he garnered just four votes - although he made the second round, which was not the case for Taiwan's Wu Ching-Kuo, who was eliminated.

Mr Bach, gold medallist with the West German team in the team foil event at the 1976 Olympics, had been the frontrunner throughout the campaign and had for years been seen as the man most likely to replace Rogge.

"I know what the enormous responsibilites are of being IOC president but I am very happy," he said after the announcement, which saw him break into a broad smile.

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

"You my friends and colleagues have placed in me an overwhelming sign of trust.

"I also have enormous respect for my fellow candidates and I will work with you.

"I will put into practice what my motto was during the campaign: 'unity in diversity'."

Mr Bach - who received a personal phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin after his election - said being in Buenos Aires brought memories flooding back from when he was an athlete.

"I came here with the team a year after winning Olympic gold," he said.

"Then it was a cold winter but all I take from it is the warmth of the relations we enjoyed with our rivals even in a dramatic final where we came back from nowhere to win.

"So I take those same warm feelings from the win today." Mr Bach, a lawyer by profession, is the ultimate insider having been an IOC member since 1991 and vice-president three times while also heading up the Judicial Commission.

He has also been one of the leaders in fighting doping, calling for athletes to be suspended for four years instead of the two-year ban in place at the moment.

It had not been all plain sailing for Bach during the campaign, with German media in particular posing questions about his ability to be president.

Mr Bach's smooth-running campaign suddenly hit problems in August.

An academic report - commissioned by him - was released alleging that, like their then East German neighbours, West Germany too had indulged in systematic doping of their athletes.

Mr Bach dismissed the claims that he should have known more about what was going on and then set up an inquiry headed by a retired judge.

He told AFP in August that even in his time as an athlete he had never witnessed doping firsthand.

"You heard things and read some stories in the newspapers, that something was going on in different sports," he said.

An unflattering documentary on German television failed to turn up anything that could seriously damage him, while his relations with increasingly influential Kuwaiti IOC member Sheikh Ahmed al-Sabah also seemed to leave him unharmed.

The front page of one Argentinian newspaper last week had a cartoon of Sabah, wearing a t-shirt with Mr Bach's face on it, grinning and with his thumb raised, while rival Denis Oswald went public and slammed him for his business links with Kuwait.

However, it made little impact and Mr Oswald, like his fellow candidates, were no match for the machine behind Bach.