‘Goodbye, America!’

The Olympics is always a world wide spectacle.  It is a way to honor the exceptional psychical talent that men and women across the globe have.  It is a way for countries to unite together in friendly competition. It’s a way to bring the world together.  People from across the world come together to support their country. It’s a way for the people of the world to mingle and interact with different cultures.  Unfortunately, the 1980 Olympics weren’t that.   The United States and 55 other nations decided to boycott the games in protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. This boycott deepened the atmosphere of the Cold War.  This was a strictly political move and it ended up impacting the athletes most of all.

The Carter administration thought that a boycott would be the best non-military approach for protesting the Afghanistan invasion. Don Paige, an American middle distance runner, knew that he had a chance to win gold int he 1800 m run.  Unfortunately for him, that dream
of the 1980 Olympics was ruined. When asked about what he thought of the boycott he said the follow:

“And then I heard those words from Pres. Carter: ‘We will not go’. I thought, you got to be kidding me? We’re not going to the Olympics? I was heartbroken that politics and sport had mixed, but they always do, it’s no use pretending otherwise. I got my revenge. I became a Republican that year.”

CIA Director Adm. Stansfield Turner similarly disagreed and warned,
“The Soviets would also be able to play the role of an aggrieved party before a partially sympathetic international audience and to utilize international disagreements over the boycott to exacerbate tensions between the U.S. and non-boycotting (or reluctantly boycotting) states, probably including some close U.S. allies.”
It is unfortunate that not only American athletes, but 50 other nation’s athletes couldn’t participate.  But although Carter had hoped that
this boycott would have a devastating and lasting impact on the Soviet Union, it didn’t.  55% of American’s favored the boycott but there was a lot of push back.  Many thought that this boycott would give the Soviets a sympathetic edge and some influence on the national stage. Julian Roosevelt, an American member of the International Olympic Committee, said that boycotting wasn’t the way to protest the invasion. Going to the Olympics and fighting those Soviets was!
“I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but the patriotic thing to do is for us to send a team over there and whip their ass.”
Things in the Soviet Union weren’t as bad as Carter had hoped. The Soviets came together.  Soviet fans flocked to all the events, even the obscure ones.  Venues were almost completely full by loyal, Soviet fans.  In all, 5.2 million tickets were sold of which 3.9 million were purchased by Soviet citizens.  At the end of the closing ceremony, there was a sweet, sentimental surprise.  A huge Misha, the cute bear figure of the 1980 olympics, came out waving goodbye as he roe above the stadium with a bundle of multicolored balloons.  As he was floating away, the song ‘Goodbye, Moscow!‘ was playing.  This song was really beautifully written. It was about focusing on the good parts and smile looking forward.
“Friends are coming apart,
Tenderness stays in the heart…
We shall cherish the song.
Farewell, we shall meet again.”
The Soviets throughout this whole event showed that they could come together as a nation.  They were able to put on a huge, world wide event.  Although there were riots and protests, they still managed to put on a successful Olympics.  They showed that they could be a strong country that wouldn’t bend to the United States.  Although the Soviet Union collapsed a decade later, this shows that they had the potential of good things and were capable of coming together as a supportive, strong country.

8 thoughts on “‘Goodbye, America!’

  • April 24, 2017 at 3:33 pm
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    I really like how you found personal reactions by Americans to Carter’s boycott. I agree with Julian Roosevelt’s quote – that was a great find! Overall great post. Where did you get the quotes from?

  • April 24, 2017 at 3:58 pm
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    What a great analysis of the 1980 Olympics boycott! I surprised that 56 countries boycotting it didn’t alter/cancel specific events or invalidate them. Were the countries that boycotted the Olympics all NATO or US allies at the time? Or was there no correlation? You did a great job at summarizing the implications of the boycott as well as bring up popular opinion at the time, thanks for posting!

  • April 24, 2017 at 4:26 pm
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    Sports and politics still is an issue today, especially with the Olympics. I remember there being a lot of controversy over the Olympics in Rio and the world cup for soccer a few years ago because of funding and location. I think that the US boycotting did not do much to stir the Soviets, it really just is a sporting competition, but it also falls in line with the issues during the time of the Cold War. In retrospect, it did not do much but irritate and prevent athletes in competing, but at the time it probably seemed like the best option available.

  • April 24, 2017 at 5:55 pm
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    Olympic boycotts are tricky — and there are definitely consequences for the politicians who make that tough call to deprive athletes of the opportunity to compete on the world stage — especially since many of them will only have one Olympic shot. Do check the second sentence for typos ;-).

  • April 24, 2017 at 9:37 pm
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    I really like the quotes that you included. I think they show that most people wanted to keep the Olympics as apolitical as possible. I think it definitely makes the US look like it is afraid to compete against the Soviet Union or televise the ceremonies. Great post!

  • April 25, 2017 at 12:39 am
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    I really liked the quotes you used in this post. They did a lot to show people’s opinions on the boycott. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if the U.S had gone. I also wonder which other countries didn’t go as well. This seems like a very interesting moment in the Cold War.

  • April 25, 2017 at 1:13 am
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    Great post! I thought it was interesting that President Carter decided to boycott the Olympics in Moscow despite the fact that the Soviets had just come and participated in the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. I tend to agree with the sentiment that sending athletes and competing was the way to go but to each their own.

  • April 25, 2017 at 4:40 am
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    It is really interesting how the stand offs of the Cold War weren’t just politicians calling each other out, but it also had real world consequences for individual people who had no real part in it. It is also interesting in how their was disagreement in the US and the West about how best to respond to the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan.

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