EDITORS — With the Tokyo Olympics postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Associated Press is looking back at the history of Summer Games. Here are some of the highlights of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
The Cold War made for decades of tense Olympic battles between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1980 that rivalry split the Olympics altogether.
U.S. President Jimmy Carter, facing re-election, pushed for the U.S. to boycott the first Olympics held in the Soviet Union after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in December 1979.
As the Soviets won medal after medal in Moscow, U.S. athletes were given token medals at a White House reception. The boycott came just months after the U.S. had hosted the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, beating the Soviets 4-3 in the “Miracle on Ice” final.
Carter recruited boxing legend Muhammad Ali to criss-cross Africa with an appeal to countries to join the boycott. Of the five nations Ali visited, three competed in Moscow anyway.
The U.S., China, Canada, West Germany and much of South America stayed home. Many European countries fudged the issue, sending teams who took part under the Olympic flag. Four years later, the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as retaliation.
The Soviet war in Afghanistan rumbled on through the 1980 Olympics. Boxers and wrestlers sent by Afghanistan's pro-Soviet authorities were held up as heroes by the Soviet media, which reported they had defied threats of physical harm to compete. Some Afghan athletes had defected to Pakistan instead.
It was a showcase of ideology as much as sporting achievement. The main venue was Moscow's Central Lenin Stadium, now better known as Luzhniki, which also held the soccer World Cup final in 2018. The Soviets and their allies held up sporting successes as a validation of their political systems.