London Spy

What happened next? Antonio Rebollo

London Spy

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Antonio Rebello at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens

The opening ceremony of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona will be forever recalled for Antonio Rebollo, a Spanish paralympic archer, planting a flaming arrow into a darkened sky from some distance to light the Olympic Flame. Or so it seemed.

An estimated two billion people watching on television across the globe were left gasping in awe as the archer launched an arrow into the middle of a cauldron with unwavering accuracy and nerve. In truth, Rebello had drilled the arrow outside of the stadium under instruction from organisers worried that he would fluff his lines by missing the mark.

In the darkened sky, it seemed like he had fired the perfect arrow, but it was later revealed that some smart camera angles had assisted the situation with the Olympic Cauldron being lit by others.

The man who lit the natural gas rising from the cauldron was not Rebollo, but Reyes Abades, a technician using a remote control. The effect was not lost on the crammed stadium or viewers. Rebollo was happy to keep the illusion going.

"There were no fears. I was practically a robot. I focused on my positioning and reaching the target. My feelings were taken from the people who described to me how they saw it. What they felt, their emotions, their cries. This is what made me realise what the moment actually meant," commented Rebollo, even if the truth lay outside of the stadium.

Born in Madrid in 1955, Rebollo contracted polio at eight months old with both legs affected, but he refused to be cowed by his condition. "I simply wanted to do things that challenge me," he said.

Out of 200 hopefuls, he was the archer chosen to get the job done on the big night. Rebollo represented Spain in three Paralympics winning silver in 1984, bronze in 1988 and a silver in 1992, but struck gold with his arrow of destiny.

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Antonio Rebollo to the right of Spanish basketball player Juan Antonio Epi

What happened afterwards?

Rebollo's arrow was retrieved from outside of the stadium and donated to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. He felt his training, which included charred fingers and over 700 practice shots, had been worth it due to the amount of Spanish kids who had received archery sets over Christmas in 1992.

He accused organisers of casting him aside after the opening ceremony.

"I gave up the chance to take part in the Games to be in the opening ceremony. They didn't give me official accreditation... they didn't even give me any tickets to go and see any of the events, not even the archery."

He was determined to return to his life as a cabinet maker in Madrid.

"I don't want to go the rest of my life signing autographs for people on the street," he said.

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