World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that former race walker Jorge Llopart, who won Spain’s first ever Olympic medal in athletics, died on Wednesday (11) at the age of 68 after suffering a heart attack.
Llopart was European champion in 1978 and Olympic silver medallist in 1980, paving the way for a whole generation of world-beating Spanish race walkers. He represented his country at three Olympic Games, three World Championships and four European Championships.
Born in 1952 in the Catalonian municipality of El Prat de Llobregat, ‘Jordi’ Llopart took up athletics at the age of 13, initially focusing on cross country and middle-distance events before moving to race walking towards the end of the 1960s.
Coached by his father Moises for most of his career, Llopart made his international debut in 1973, placing 16th over 20km in Gradisca d’Isonzo in the qualifying round for the IAAF World Race Walking Cup. After winning his first national title over 20km in 1976, he moved up in distance and found he was better suited to the 50km event.
Llopart won the 50km race walk at the 1978 European Championships in Prague, becoming the first Spanish athlete to win a European title. His winning time of 3:53:30 was a Spanish record and championship record.
He improved in 1979 and clocked a European record of 3:44:33, becoming the second-fastest man in history at that point.
The highlight of his career came at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow where he was among the medal hopes, but Mexico’s world record-holder Raul Gonzalez was considered the outright favourite. Gonzalez led for the first 20km but then started to fade before eventually dropping out. East Germany’s Hartwig Gauder came through to take gold while Llopart finished second, earning Spain’s first ever Olympic medal in athletics.
“I achieved my goal because I know where my strengths lie,” he told Spanish media after the race. “I’m not a Formula 1 car; I’m a diesel engine.”
Although Llopart didn’t make it on to another major championships podium after 1980, he continued competing at a high level until the age of 40. He finished seventh at the 1984 Olympics and 13th in 1988. He also achieved top-10 finishes at the 1982 and 1986 European Championships.
He wasn’t quite so fortunate at the World Championships, though. He finished 28th over 20km at the 1983 World Championships in history and then failed to finish in the 50km. In Rome four years later, he was disqualified just a few kilometres from the finish while in a medal position after being on course to set a lifetime best.
Llopart finished 17th at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, aged 39 at the time, in what was his final major championships appearance. He had hoped to bow out on home soil at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, but narrowly missed out on selection after finishing fourth in Spain’s trial race. He still made it to the Games, though, and was one of the Olympic flag bearers at the opening ceremony.
After retiring, Llopart was awarded the Silver Medal of the Royal Order of Sports Merit in 1994 and the Olympic Order in 1999. He was a founding partner and vice president of the Spanish Race Walking Association (AEMA) in 2004, and went on to work as a technical adviser to many national federations, including Mexico, Japan and the US. He was also involved in coaching some of Spain's leading race walkers, including 1993 world champion Jesus Angel Garcia.
Llopart had two daughters with his first wife, Maria del Carmen, and two daughters with his second wife, Lithuanian Olympic race walker Sonata Milusauskaite. Llopart remained active late in life and would walk for 30-45 minutes every morning along the Costa del Maresme in Canet del Mar where he lived.
"Everything started with Jordi Llopart," said European silver medallist Diego Garcia Carrera. "He paved the way for Spanish race walkers."
"Jorge was a great among the greats of athletics," added Spanish Federation President Raul Chapado. "Her lit our way out of the dark."