BOYCOTT GAMES: 1980 U.S. team finds overdue recognition


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (PA) – Many of the names are familiar. Others don't play much.

There were 474 American athletes ready to take their talents to the Moscow Olympics in 1980. The US government, in the midst of a Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union, ended those plans. Of these 474 athletes, 227 would never have another chance at Olympic glory.

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All the names of the athletes and their history are enshrined in the recently opened US Olympic and Paralympic Museum – a small, late and timely tribute to a group of athletes who never got what they deserved.

"If you get it right and you don't win, you won't win," said swimmer John Moffet, who was 16 when the boycott was announced. "One thing that made it so difficult was that we didn't get our chance in 1980, and it was nothing we did."

Moffet had his chance four years later at the Los Angeles Olympics. He entered those games as the world record holder in the 100m breaststroke. He tore a muscle in his leg during preliminaries, which cost him a realistic chance of a medal that many thought he would win. A painful day indeed, he said, but nowhere near what some of his US teammates have endured.

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There were dozens and dozens – among them, the fighter Lee Kemp, the high jumper Benn Fields and the water polo player Peter Schnugg, whose stories will be told as part of the Associated Press series on the boycott – that had circulated 1980 in his calendar for years, just to see it ripped off. They never had another chance.

"From 1976 to 1980, it was the total focus," explained Fields. "Between 1981 and 1984, I came back, but the intensity was not there. In the back of my mind, I put in such an intense effort in 1980, and to fail, it was difficult to get back from that."

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The Carter administration tried to compensate the athletes. They were honored at the White House and received gold medals in Congress – the highest honor a civilian can receive from Congress – although that was a warning. Since the medals were not pure gold – they were gold-plated bronze – it took 27 years and a big push from some of the athletes before they were officially recorded in the Congressional Record.

Time passed and the athletes went on with their lives.

Some, like rower Anita DeFrantz, have turned the Olympics into a career. DeFrantz, now vice president of the International Olympic Committee, devoted much of his time to ensuring more recognition for the 1980 team.

"We were seen as children who didn't know any better," said DeFrantz in a video call held earlier this year to commemorate the 1980 team. "And we asked," Can anyone save a life by doing this? " they said & # 39; no & # 39; and it just did it for me. "

Edwin Moses won 122 straight runs in the 400 meter hurdles between 1977 and 1987. He has two Olympic gold medals and one bronze. And while the fact that he was denied the chance for a medal in 1980 is only a footnote in his career, he has spent the past few months organizing meetings for the 1980 team – a mission that has become even more vital because the Olympians this year are not competing, also due to problems completely beyond their control.

"It is a chance to advance our experiences, a chance to use the tragic legacy of 1980 to show the true power of the sport," said Moses.

Forty years after the boycott, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum went to great lengths to include a permanent 1980 exhibition – the first of its kind.

"You can't blame people for not remembering the 1980 team, because nothing happened, other than that we weren't," said Moffet, who helped plan the exhibition.

Like most sports, USA Swimming conducted Olympic tests a few months after the U.S. Olympic Committee made the fateful decision, on April 12, 1980, to follow the government's plan and boycott the Olympic Games. American swimmers competed on the same days that Moscow swimmers were in the water at the Olympics. The Olympics times appeared on the scoreboard to see if America's best could really win a medal that day.

But Moffet's most visceral memory of 1980 came that April, hours after the USOC's boycott decision. With no races scheduled that night, he sat in the stands to attend a meeting that had been planned as an adjustment to the Olympic tests, which, just a few hours earlier, was expected to mean much more.

Before the swim started, the national anthem played.

"My dad turned to me and said, 'It looks different, doesn't it?'," Said Moffet. "I was not a very cynical boy, but I remember thinking to myself: & # 39; Yes, it is true. & # 39;"

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