Olympics History >> Moscow 1980 >> Overview

Moscow 1980 - Overview

Moscow welcomes the "political Games"

When Moscow was chosen to host the 1980 Olympic Games on Oct. 23, 1974, the IOC was all too aware of the difficulties that such a choice could incur. The Olympic movement still fell prey to politics when the Games were held in Moscow, the first Eastern European city to host an Olympiad. The boycott became apparent once more with the absence of the United States and many other countries.

The 1979 Red Army invasion of Afghanistan proved the catalyst -- sparking anger from U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Many others joined the boycott but, even so, 81 countries (including the seven-strong delegation from Liberia who did not compete) and over 5,217 athletes attended between July 19 to Aug. 3.

Soviet publicity

The Soviet capital had been preparing for five years to stage the event, with Communism being assured its own quota of publicity. New stadiums and sports facilities were built and those that already existed, such as the Lenin stadium, were modernized.

The domes on top of the Kremlin and many of the area's churches were totally restored. But the same construction effort was applied, to the detriment of the public, outside the city. A five-story mausoleum, used as a media center, was erected on a site where 50 individual houses had previously stood.

Given the absence of notable competitors, above all the Americans, the competition failed to capture the true spirit of the Games -- despite the breaking of 36 world records.

No atmosphere

When the final curtain fell, the overall opinion was that the Games had been mediocre. On the one hand, the American boycott diminished the level of competition, as well as provoked a dull atmosphere. On the other hand, the competitors had reason, on a regular basis, to complain about certain irregularities. Favors given to the Soviet team, or advice given to local athletes, lent an unhealthy pallor to the moral and sporting appearance of the Games.

Moscow also signaled the end of Lord Killanin's tenure as president of the IOC. At the end, Spaniard Juan Antonio Samaranch took over the reins.


Britain's Allan Wells won the 100m dash with a sprint of 10.25 seconds, the worst time since 1954. His compatriots Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe and Daley Thompson won golds too in the 800m, 1500m and decathlon after the British Olympic Committee decided to make the trip.

Russian swimmer Vladimir Salnikov gave his compatriots something to smile about with wins in the 400m, 1500m and the 4x200m relay. Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson also left his mark, punching his way to gold in the heavyweight division at his third consecutive Olympics.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

Moment in Time