The 2018 Winter Olympics kicked off in PyeongChang, South Korea on Friday. Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, gave a speech highlighting peace and including what seemed like a warning to Russia.
Bach is a former Olympian and worked with the German Olympic Sports Confederation, among other positions.
He initiated reforms for the 2020 Olympics, which were unanimously approved.
Here’s everything you need to know:
1. He’s the President of the IOC and Has a History With the Olympics
Thomas Bach is the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). He ran for the position in 2013, against Sergey Bubka, Richard Carrión, Ng Ser Miang, Denis Oswald and Wu Ching-Kuo. He won 49 votes, the majority, and was elected to an eight-year term. At the end of his session, in 2021, he will be eligible to run for a four-year term.
Previously, Bach was the President of the Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund, the German Olympic Sports Confederation. He headed the Munich 2018 Winter Olympic bid, which received 25 votes. PyeongChang, which won, received 63 votes.
He was head of Ghorfa Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, but resigned when taking office with IOC. He is still the the head of Michael Weinig AG Company, an industrial woodworking machinery company located Tauberbischofsheim, Germany, where Bach is from.
Bach was an olympian himself, competing in fencing in for West Germany.
2. He Won His Own Olympic Gold Medal Before Germany Was Unified
Bach competed as a foil fencer in the 1973 for West Germany. His team competed in the 1976 Summer Olympics, winning a gold team medal. He also won a silver team medal in the 1973 World Championships, a gold team medal in the 1977 World Championships, and a bronze team medal in the 1979 World Championships.
West Germany had 290 athletes compete in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, West Germany, and East Germany sent 267.
Bach was the first Olympian granted the use of the letters OLY after his name, meaning ‘Olympian.’ The letters are used in the same way that military or doctoral letters are used to designate advanced degrees or achievements.
3. He Took a Dig at Russia During the 2018 Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony
Bach gave a speech during the Opening Stadium in PyeongChang on Friday, stressing a theme of unity and peace. He mentioned how the North and South Korea delegations walked together, calling it a “a powerful message of peace to the world.” He also said athletes should remember to enjoy themselves.
Then, he told athletes that they were role models and inspirations for their countries, and seemed to take a shot at Russia.
“Over the next days, the world will be looking to you for inspiration… You will inspire us by competing for the highest honor in the Olympic spirit of excellence, respect and fair play. You can only really enjoy your Olympic performance if you respect the rules, and stay clean. Only then will your lifelong memories be the memories of a true and worthy Olympian,” he said.
Russia’s state-sponsored doping scandal was one of the biggest issues Bach dealt with leading up to the Olympics. Russian athletes are competing this year under the Olympic Flag, and Russian politicians are banned from the games.
4. He Has Advanced Degrees and Speaks Four Languages
Bach was born in 1953 in Würzburg Germany, and grew up in Tauberbischofsheim. He earned a doctor of law from University of Würzburg, and is fluent in German, English, Spanish, and French. In addition to fencing, he played tennis and soccer.
He started his career by founding a law firm in 1982. He was then the Director for Promotion at Adidas from 1985-1987, then Chairman of the SME Advisory Board of the Federal Minister for Economics from 1988-1990. He was Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Michael Weinig AG starting in 1998, and Weinig International AG starting in 2000. He was a Member of the Board of Administration of Siemens Schweiz AG from 2000-2009, President of the Ghorfa Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry from 2006-2013, Chairman of the Advisory Board of Melius GmbH from 2008-2013, a Member of the Supervisory Board of Nürnberger Versicherung AG Austria from 2009-2013, and Chairman of the Advisory Board of Bartec GmbH from 2009-2013.
When it comes to sports, he was Chairman of the Athletes’ Commission of the German Committee for Competitive Sport in the German Sports Confederation from 1979-1981; the Athletes’ representative at the 11th Olympic Congress inBaden-Baden, Germany in 1981; a Founding member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission from 1981-1988; an Individual Member of the National Olympic Committee of Germany from 1982-1991; Chairman of the Appeals division of the Court of Arbitration for sport from 1994-2013; a Member of the Supervisory Board of the Organising Committee of the 2006 FIFA World Cup; the Founding President and later Honorary President of the German Olympic Sports Confederation, beginning in 2006; and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Organising Committee of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup from 2007-2011.
5. He’s Made Changes for 2020, Including Revamping the Bidding Process and More Equality
Bach says the current bidding process asks for “too much, too early.” Reforms, which were unanimously approved, will reduce costs and introduce a “new philosophy to invite potential candidate cities to present a project that fits their sporting, economic, social and environmental long-term planning needs.”
Non-discrimination for sexual orientation was added to the Olympic Charter, and commitments to sustainability were approved.
The reforms also reiterate commitment to “clean athletes.”