1980 U.S. Olympians Vent About Boycott

(ATR) Anger, resentment and regret on display at virtual town hall to commemorate the 40th anniversary of boycott decision.

(ATR) Members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team attend a "Zoom" town hall to express anger, resentment and regret regarding the Moscow boycott and counsel current athletes with dreams disrupted by the pandemic.

Edwin Moses, a two-time gold medalist in the 400-meter-hurdles, created the event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the boycott decision, calling it "Olympic Legacies – Remembered & Repurposed."

"My first thought was to have a cathartic session of 1980 Olympians and make sure we’re never forgotten because we paid a horrible price," Moses said, "but then it morphed into being able to advise athletes that are going though a similar situation today."

More than 150 people attended the webinar, which was recorded for future viewers.

Moses was Olympic champion in 1976. He was forced to sit out the Games in 1980 due to the boycott, which the U.S. government, led by President Jimmy Carter, attributed to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Moses was one of the fortunate athletes to still be in his prime in 1984, where he won his second gold.

Lee Kemp, a three-time world freestyle wrestling champion, said losing his chance to go to the 1980 Games "was like a death in the family, a close loved one where that person’s gone and you can never get them back. We can never get back 1980, but we had to try to move forward to try to grab 1984."

Alas, he came up short, placing second at the Olympic Trials.

Anita DeFrantz, a rowing bronze medalist in 1976, was the most vocal opponent of the boycott among the American athletes. She even filed a lawsuit and received death threats. But DeFrantz would never go to another Games as an athlete. She went on to become an IOC member in 1986 and is now a vice president.

"We are the team with no result," DeFrantz said. "They don’t know our names, no one cares about us, our glory days do not exist."

Four More Years

She testified before the U.S. Senate, pleading for a chance to compete. "We were all vilified for being selfish young children," DeFrantz said. "We could wait another four years. It was terrible, just terrible."

When she asked the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff if one life would be saved by the boycott, he replied, "No."

Rita Buck-Crockett, a volleyball player in 1980 and 1984, said the decision to keep the U.S. team home "was completely devastating because I just didn’t understand what did Afghanistan have to do with us as athletes?" she said. "We were close friends with some of the Chinese athletes, the Cuban athletes, the Russian athletes.

"For me, it just boggled my mind., I was one of the fortunate ones that got to go on to 1984… but some of my other teammates had to hang their tennis shoes up and that was it even though we were slated to win a gold medal (in 1980). It was tough."

As a beach volleyball coach at Florida International University, Buck-Crockett coaches several athletes who have made their Olympic teams for Tokyo.

She said she tells them, "As hard as it is, you have only one year, hopefully, and you’re going to save a million lives. When we boycotted, as Anita said, we didn’t save one life. It was not about the Olympics. We shouldn’t have had that position.

"So, go do your sit-ups in your living room, go run, do whatever you can do just to keep yourself in shape, and once this gets better, everything’s going to be fine. Just stay positive and be happy that you’re healthy and everyone around you is healthy."

A Permanent Museum Display

Representatives of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, which expects to open this summer, told the 1980 Olympians that they would be the only team with a permanent display.

Also during the webinar, Moses introduced 98-year-old Olympic bronze medalist Herb Douglas, who missed the 1944 Games due to World War II. The hurdling icon said the tragedy of the 1980 team was compounded by the loss of 14 boxers and eight staff members for USA Boxing who were killed in a plane crash en route to competition in Poland in March of that year..

Olympic champion diver Greg Louganis and high jumper Ben Fields from the 1980 team also spoke at the town hall, along with 1964 gold medalist Donna de Varona, who would have been the first woman to host the Olympic Games for ABC.

"It broke my heart when we didn’t go to Moscow," she said.

Leslie Klein, a 1980 and 1984 Olympian in sprint kayak, said she and her teammates were self-funded and lived in huts.

"Now people like us are called homeless," Klein said. "We just called it training camp. The boycott was a really difficult time for me and all my fellow Olympic hopefuls. Some athletes never fully recovered."

Klein is now the director of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee Athlete Career and Education Program.

"We have a wide array of resources to help current Team USA athletes negotiate these uncertain times," she said. "The 1980 team did not have access to these resources, but times have changed."

Klein asked her fellow 1980 Olympians to hire or mentor a Team USA athlete.

Kaleigh Gilchrist, a water polo player severely injured when a balcony collapsed while she and her teammates celebrated their gold medal at the 2019 World Championships, is grateful she is still able to compete.

"Unfortunately for you guys, your Olympics was cancelled," Gilchrist said. "Ours, as of right now, are only postponed. In the grand scheme of things, it’s only a year and I would advise fellow athletes to stay positive and continue to train hard.

"And when we do get there, when that Olympics does happen, it’s going to be a really special Games, if not the most special Games, to come together as the world to celebrate sport and celebrate life."

Written by Karen Rosen

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