A taste of Montreal 76 at the IOC Session in Tokyo

There were 10 competitors from the Olympic Games of 45 years ago at the 138th IOC Session this week

Miguel Hernandez con Nadia Comaneci (Miguel Hernandez)
Miguel Hernandez con Nadia Comaneci (Miguel Hernandez)

Nadia Comaneci continued to dazzle the world in the individual all-around competition on July 21, two days after her first perfect score of “10” in Olympic history.

It was a week of seven “tens” just 45 years ago, for the 14-year-old Romanian against Soviet stars Nelli Kim, Lyudmila Turischeva and Olga Korbut.

This and other memorable moments of the XXI Olympic Games in Montreal are perhaps distant or non-existent memories for most of the hundred or so members of the International Olympic Committee who attended for two days, in person or from a distance, their 138th Session in a well-known Tokyo hotel.

For about a dozen of them, however, it might seem like yesterday.

Pal Schmitt, Anita L. DeFrantz, Princess Anne of England, Denis Oswald, Thomas Bach, Valery Borzov, Guy Drut, Bernard Rajzman, Tricia Smith, Jacques Rogge, competed in those Canadian games.

Of course, the current dean of IOC members, former 1960 Olympic swimmer Richard Pound, has a fresh memory of what happened that summer when he served as secretary general of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Of that small group, two were Olympic champions: France’s Drut in the 110m hurdles and Germany’s Bach, IOC president since 2013, in fencing.

A day after the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, Bach may remember - I can’t say for sure with the agenda of worries he carries along with the organizers - that this Saturday, July 24, it will be 45 years since his gold medal in the team foil.

IOC President Thomas Bach addresses IOC Session in Tokyo. (IOC Greg Martin)
IOC President Thomas Bach addresses IOC Session in Tokyo. (IOC Greg Martin)

Together with Harald Hein, Erk Sens-Gorius, Klaus Reichert and Mathias Behr, Bach shared the 9-6 triumph in the final over Italy. Four years later he was thwarted in his hopes of another podium finish by the boycott of the Moscow Games.

Montreal had been the scene of the first official boycott of an Olympic Games, which also celebrates its 45th anniversary, led by 24 African countries that requested the exclusion of New Zealand because its national rugby team had played against South Africa, a country excluded by the IOC because of its policy of racial segregation.

The delegations from Cameroon, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia competed in the first days of the Games and then joined the rest of the African NOCs.

Cuba was on the verge of joining them when I arrived in Montreal a week before the Games, my first Olympic Games as a sports journalist.

The then press chief of the Cuban Sports Institute, who had arrived in advance, welcomed us at the Canadian international airport.

I will never forget his words: “be attentive because we may have to return to Havana in solidarity with the African countries”.

So we headed to our accommodation in a Young Men’s Christian Association building, waiting for the worst... Fortunately, the decision of the Cuban government, specifically Fidel Castro, to forgo the Olympic Games never happened (which unfortunately happened later with Los Angeles 84 and Seoul 88).

If Cuba had joined the African boycott, I would not have had the satisfaction of writing from the Olympic Stadium, with its smell of fresh cement, of the feat of Alberto Juantorena’s two gold medals in the 400 and 800 meters.

Nor from the Maurice Richard Arena to have reviewed the second Olympic title of Teófilo Stevenson among boxing super heavyweights after having left on the way, among others, the American John Tate with a knockout in the first round.

Nor to have interviewed at the Olympic Complex the Cuban Héctor Rodriguez, who became the first American Olympic judo champion.

After Montreal 76 came the boycotts of Moscow and Los Angeles and a failed attempt at Seoul that was reduced to seven no-shows led by North Korea and joined by Cuba.

The Olympic family is confident it will not face that spectre again.

Olympic history has shown that athletes have been the main victims of boycotts. Among them are several figures who on Wednesday closed another Olympic “summit” in Tokyo, hoping to save a complicated Olympic Games with the athletes in mind.