News

July 2020

Invisible Olympians: Forty years later, the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Games still resonates for the athletes

Courtesy of The Washington Post

By Rick Maese | Video by Jorge Ribas
July 16, 2020

They had trained for years. They had dreamed of gold medals. They had hoped to represent the United States and showcase their talents to the world. By competing under the American flag, they all felt like patriots.

But 40 years later, the 1980 U.S. Olympic team is a team in name only. They never actually competed, their dreams sacrificed to geopolitical affairs that remain controversial four decades later.

Upset that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter did not want the United States competing at the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. After a failed attempt to move the Olympics, he urged a boycott, pressuring the U.S. Olympic Committee and recruiting allied nations to join the fight.

His hard-line stance kicked off months of debate, public posturing and legal battles. Caught in the middle were more than 450 athletes, their Olympic dreams dashed. For many, their athletic careers were effectively ended.

It’s really hard to believe that it’s 40 years since the boycott year. Wow.

 Ron Galimore

Gymnastics

Ron Galimore

Sport: gymnastics (vault, floor)

A four-time NCAA national champion from Iowa State, Galimore was the first African American to make the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team and was a medal favorite in vault and floor exercise in 1980.

In 1980, everything came together. I was in great shape. I was healthy. I was confident. All of my routines were international caliber, and I could perform them well. I anticipated everything and kind of knew the ropes. I anticipated everything except the boycott of the Olympic Games.

 Gene Mills

Wrestling

Gene Mills

Sport: wrestling (114 pounds)

A member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Mills was a two-time NCAA champion and a gold medal favorite in 1980, when he was named athlete of the year by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

I wanted to go to the Olympics and pin my way through it. I wanted to be the most dominant wrestler that ever went to an Olympic Games, and kind of that was my goal. … I was kind of a little obsessed and maybe a little crazy.

Blazejowski

Carol Blazejowski

Sport: basketball (forward)

A three-time all-American, Blazejowski averaged 31.7 points per game at Montclair State and was considered one of the best players in the world, leading the U.S. team in scoring at the 1979 world championships.

I worked at Montclair State [in New Jersey] in the admissions office and trained at the university and went on summer tours for the next year or so with Team USA and was ready for 1980. By that time, my game had really matured as one of the best players in the country, if not the world — captain of the USA team. Everything was humming pretty good.

The Olympics were about 6½ months away when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Dec. 27, 1979, sending in thousands of troops. Carter was running for reelection but faced plummeting poll numbers and felt strong, decisive action was necessary.

 Stuart Eizenstat

Chief White House domestic policy adviser

Stuart Eizenstat

Position: chief White House domestic policy adviser

Eizenstat has served in three U.S. administrations, including as ambassador to the European Union under President Bill Clinton, and authored the 2018 book “President Carter: The White House Years.”

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a game-changer for Jimmy Carter. He was frankly criticized when he said in an interview how surprised he was and that it really taught him something more about the Soviet Union than he had seen in the last 2½ years. In his defense, what he was suggesting is he knew they were acting aggressively, but this was really something beyond that. … Carter felt that it was the greatest threat to world peace since the end of World War II.

The Carter administration worked quickly on a series of sanctions. The Moscow Games were still months away, and the White House hoped the imbroglio wouldn’t last long. Carter wrote in his diary Jan. 2, 1980, “I’m inclined to restrict grain sales, but the Olympics issue would cause me the most trouble and be the most severe blow to the Soviets.”

Eizenstat

Stuart Eizenstat

Position: chief White House domestic policy adviser

Eizenstat has served in three U.S. administrations, including as ambassador to the European Union under President Bill Clinton, and authored the 2018 book “President Carter: The White House Years.”

I mean, we were working for three or four weeks literally seven days a week on a 24/7 basis to put a package together, because we knew that in the summer of 1980 there would be a Moscow Olympics hosted by the Soviet Union. And, naturally, this was somewhat one of the things we put on the table.

Blazejowski

Carol Blazejowski

Sport: basketball (forward)

A three-time all-American, Blazejowski averaged 31.7 points per game at Montclair State and was considered one of the best players in the world, leading the U.S. team in scoring at the 1979 world championships.

I was pretty young at the time, so I really wasn’t aware or involved in the politics of anything. I wasn’t thinking about global matters. I wasn’t really thinking about national or local matters. I was just really focused on being the best I can be.

 Rowdy Gaines

Swimming

Rowdy Gaines

Sport: swimming (freestyle)

Gaines set 10 world records leading into the Moscow Games and was a podium favorite in four events. He went on to win three gold medals at the 1984 Olympics and is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

You have to remember, back then, obviously, we didn’t have the kind of news cycle we have now.

Mills

Gene Mills

Sport: wrestling (114 pounds)

A member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Mills was a two-time NCAA champion and a gold medal favorite in 1980, when he was named athlete of the year by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

I didn’t think it was going to impact my life in any way, shape or form. … I really believed that things were going to sort themselves out.

Eizenstat

Stuart Eizenstat

Position: chief White House domestic policy adviser

Eizenstat has served in three U.S. administrations, including as ambassador to the European Union under President Bill Clinton, and authored the 2018 book “President Carter: The White House Years.”

I said, well, look, let’s wait. You know, we’re now in January. Let’s wait to closer to the Olympic Games in the summer. “No, we can’t wait. We have to make a decision. We have to let the Soviets know now and not drag it on.”

 Mike Moran

U.S. Olympic Committee chief communications officer

Mike Moran

Position: U.S. Olympic Committee chief communications officer

Working with the USOC from 1978 to 2003, Moran was at the center of some of the biggest Olympic stories, from the 1980 Miracle on Ice to the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan episode in 1994. Moran died July 7 at the age of 78.

It only began to get serious, of course, in January 1980, when the president went on television and made his first comments about, first, the [International Olympic Committee] maybe switching the Games to another location or something like that, and then as a last resort telling the U.S. Olympic team they could not go to the Games. That’s when it really got serious.

On Jan. 20, 1980, Carter appeared on “Meet the Press” and said he would not support sending a U.S. team to Moscow while Soviet troops were in Afghanistan. “I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to an alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled,” he said. Three days later, during the State of the Union address, Carter laid out economic penalties he had imposed on the Soviets, from fishing to technology to agriculture. He reiterated that “neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

 Anita DeFrantz

Rowing

Anita DeFrantz

Sport: rowing (women’s eight)

A bronze medalist at the 1976 Games, DeFrantz put her legal career on hold to chase gold in 1980. She has been a member of the USOC board of directors and the IOC since 1986.

He came on TV and said something about if the Soviets don’t remove their troops from the Afghanistan border, we will not send spectators or athletes. I thought: Uh oh, he thinks he decides who goes to the Games. He does not have that authority. I thought this could be a problem.

Gaines

Rowdy Gaines

Sport: swimming (freestyle)

Gaines set 10 world records leading into the Moscow Games and was a podium favorite in four events. He went on to win three gold medals at the 1984 Olympics and is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

I absolutely thought it was a complete bluff.

 Stephanie Hightower

Track and field

Stephanie Hightower

Sport: track and field (100-meter hurdles)

Running for Ohio State, Hightower didn’t lose a collegiate 100-meter hurdle race from 1977 to 1980. A four-time national champion, she just missed making the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, finishing fourth in a famous four-way photo finish.

Even if there was a whisper about it, we just assumed they’ll work it out. But there’s no way — there’s no way — they’re not going to send the U.S. to an Olympic Games. They’re just not going to do it.

Mills

Gene Mills

Sport: wrestling (114 pounds)

A member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Mills was a two-time NCAA champion and a gold medal favorite in 1980, when he was named athlete of the year by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Back then, I might not have been very politically correct. … I mean, the things I wanted to do to President Carter would, you know, nowadays get you put in prison. … I honestly believe I trained harder than any other human on this planet, and for it to be taken away from me by a peanut farmer … president — I’m sorry, but that’s the way I felt. I just couldn’t understand.

There was one other thing that was in the back of our minds. It was never really clearly enunciated, but it was always there — and certainly for me it was — and that is what happened in the 1936 Berlin Olympics hosted by Adolf Hitler. We let Hitler basically tell us we couldn’t have Jews on the team. Jesse Owens, an African American who won several track and field events, was not given a gold medal by him because of his racist policies. And Hitler got a great public relations boon out of those Olympic Games. The president didn’t want the same thing to happen here. He didn’t want the Soviets to be able, while they were invading another country and fighting a war with 85,000 troops, to get the public relations benefit of showcasing these Olympics to demonstrate how great the Soviet Union was.

As the White House and Olympic officials deliberated on the Moscow Games, the 1980 Winter Olympics got underway in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 13, the first Olympics staged in the United States since 1960.

Eizenstat

Stuart Eizenstat

Position: chief White House domestic policy adviser

Eizenstat has served in three U.S. administrations, including as ambassador to the European Union under President Bill Clinton, and authored the 2018 book “President Carter: The White House Years.”

The president decided not to go — shortly after the invasion by the Soviets — to Lake Placid for the Winter Olympics, which we were hosting. And when we urged him to go, he said: “I’m not going to go. I’m too controversial.”

Moran

Mike Moran

Position: U.S. Olympic Committee chief communications officer

Working with the USOC from 1978 to 2003, Moran was at the center of some of the biggest Olympic stories, from the 1980 Miracle on Ice to the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan episode in 1994. Moran died July 7 at the age of 78.

We had gone to Lake Placid, and it all began in earnest then. They sent a couple State Department representatives to Lake Placid. They were in our face all the time. We had to try to keep them away from the athletes, even though those athletes weren’t going to go to Moscow. But they were looking for any bit of support they could possibly get.

On Feb. 15, Carter sent a memo to Robert J. Kane, president of the USOC, issuing an ultimatum: “In light of the International Olympic Committee plans to proceed with the Moscow Games, it is my decision that, if Soviet troops are not fully withdrawn from Afghanistan by February 20, the United States should not send a team to the Games.” In the White House, there was some internal debate on the matter. Alonzo McDonald, an assistant to the president, sent a memo to Lloyd Cutler, White House counsel, warning: “We could easily encounter a negative turn that would hamper achieving our objectives and hurt the President if we overstep our bounds. … There are growing rumblings that our methods may be too forceful. Critics have used the phrase ‘heavy-handed.’ ”

Eizenstat

Stuart Eizenstat

Position: chief White House domestic policy adviser

Eizenstat has served in three U.S. administrations, including as ambassador to the European Union under President Bill Clinton, and authored the 2018 book “President Carter: The White House Years.”

We still were reluctant. The president tried to give Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet president, a number of lifelines to avoid a direct boycott. So he said, for example, if you will state that you’re on your way out of Afghanistan, even if you’re not completely withdrawn, then we’ll consider going.

Carter’s Feb. 20 deadline for the Soviets to withdraw troops came and went. The administration was very aware of public opinion polls at the time, many of which supported a boycott — nearly 2 out of 3 Americans, according to one Gallup poll — and was trying to curry favor with key sports figures.

Moran

Mike Moran

Position: U.S. Olympic Committee chief communications officer

Working with the USOC from 1978 to 2003, Moran was at the center of some of the biggest Olympic stories, from the 1980 Miracle on Ice to the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan episode in 1994. Moran died July 7 at the age of 78.

The athletes and the different sports governing bodies were totally in disarray. There were individual sports governing bodies like USA Basketball that said they would honor the boycott, but swimming wouldn’t. They were splitting our family in two, and they were splitting athletes in two. They were working with individual athletes to put pressure on them. The higher the profile, the better.

Stephanie Hightower, left, jumps over a hurdle during the world championships in 1987. (Gray Mortimore/Getty Images)

The White House invited dozens of athletes to Washington to discuss the administration’s stance. On March 21, more than 100 Olympic hopefuls packed in the East Room, where Joe Onek, deputy counsel and a key member of the White House domestic policy staff, outlined the administration’s hopes for alternative games.

DeFrantz

Anita DeFrantz

Sport: rowing (women’s eight)

A bronze medalist at the 1976 Games, DeFrantz put her legal career on hold to chase gold in 1980. She has been a member of the USOC board of directors and the IOC since 1986.

As fate would have it, I had just been called upon by Joe Onek, who I knew from a semester at Center for Law and Social Policy. He called on me, and I was standing. I was about to ask a question that had to do with competing under the Olympic flag. At that very moment, the president of the United States enters the room and was announced as entering the room. So I stayed standing, and everyone else stood. And he began to tell us why we wouldn’t be going and how the decision had been made. … Took no questions, no nothing. Then he left.

According to news reports at the time, Carter told the assembled group: “I understand how you feel, and I thought about it a lot as we approached this moment, when I would have to stand here in front of fine, young Americans and dedicated coaches, who have labored sometimes for more than 10 years … to become among the finest athletes in the world, knowing what the Olympics mean to you, to know that you would be disappointed. It’s not a pleasant time for me.”

DeFrantz

Anita DeFrantz

Sport: rowing (women’s eight)

A bronze medalist at the 1976 Games, DeFrantz put her legal career on hold to chase gold in 1980. She has been a member of the USOC board of directors and the IOC since 1986.

So we had a press conference over at the Hay-Adams hotel. Everything was fine until [a reporter] asked the question, “Why didn’t you clap when the president entered the room?” I thought, “Uh oh, this is a really important question to get right.” Fortunately, my brain moved fast enough to get my lips to say the following: “We’re Olympians. We’re not impressed by someone walking across the room.”

Three members of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Athlete Advisory Council face the press in Washington on April 3, 1980, after they met with White House officials to discuss the U.S. boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow. Anita DeFrantz, center, said a counterproposal to compete in the Games but protest by refusing to participate in any ceremonies was rejected by the White House. From left are Larry Hough, DeFrantz and Fred Newhouse. (Mark Wilson/AP) (Mark Wilson/Associated Press)

At an April 3 meeting between White House officials and several Olympic stakeholders, the administration again made its case and urged those in the room to vote for the boycott when the USOC was scheduled to meet about two weeks later.

DeFrantz

Anita DeFrantz

Sport: rowing (women’s eight)

A bronze medalist at the 1976 Games, DeFrantz put her legal career on hold to chase gold in 1980. She has been a member of the USOC board of directors and the IOC since 1986.

I finally asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, David Jones … “Can you tell me that one human life will be saved if we don’t go to Moscow?” He thought about it and said, “No.” That was the bottom line for me: If we can’t save one person, why are we doing this?

As fate would have it, Cutler, who was then attorney for the president, invited me to come back with him to the White House to have another discussion. … We sat and we talked back and forth. He finally said, “Anita, isn’t there something you can feel in your gut when something is wrong?” I said: “Absolutely. I most certainly have that feeling right now.”

The White House continued to turn the screws on the USOC. It began to publicly discuss removing the organization’s tax-exempt status. It discussed taking legal action against American athletes attempting to compete in Moscow. Sponsors were pressured to halt their funding. USOC officials said even their headquarters, located on land partially owned by the federal government, was in jeopardy and its executive director, Don Miller, was threatened with losing his military retirement benefits.

Moran

Mike Moran

Position: U.S. Olympic Committee chief communications officer

Working with the USOC from 1978 to 2003, Moran was at the center of some of the biggest Olympic stories, from the 1980 Miracle on Ice to the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan episode in 1994. Moran died July 7 at the age of 78.

We had very little money. We did not have a foundation. We relied on donations from the public and sponsors. We were really undermanned. We had no wealth of connected people in Washington or anywhere else. We were really way over our heads in trying to defend ourselves.

Eizenstat

Stuart Eizenstat

Position: chief White House domestic policy adviser

Eizenstat has served in three U.S. administrations, including as ambassador to the European Union under President Bill Clinton, and authored the 2018 book “President Carter: The White House Years.”

[Carter] was a sportsman himself; a fisherman, tennis player, someone who loved playing softball. He appreciated athletics. And he knew the sacrifice that our young athletes had taken. Training for years of the Olympics, number one. Number two, he didn’t want to totally disrupt the whole Olympic movement by injecting a political element into it. And third, he realized that the U.S. government didn’t have full control over whether we participated as a U.S. team in the Olympics. That was ultimately up to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which is a totally separate independent body from the U.S. government.

After three months of rhetoric and debate, the USOC’s governing board, a 600-person body called the House of Delegates, convened in Colorado Springs to vote on whether the United States should boycott the Moscow Games.

Moran

Mike Moran

Position: U.S. Olympic Committee chief communications officer

Working with the USOC from 1978 to 2003, Moran was at the center of some of the biggest Olympic stories, from the 1980 Miracle on Ice to the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan episode in 1994. Moran died July 7 at the age of 78.

Until the morning of April 12, 1980, it was seemingly up in the air. Vice President [Walter] Mondale flew into Colorado Springs the night before and got his stuff ready to go, got his speech in order. … The vice president spoke at length and characterized this as a matter of security and the nation and all that. And Bill Simon, the treasurer of the USOC, who had been the secretary for the treasury for the Ford administration in Washington, got up and spoke — and spoke at length — and basically told the House of Delegates that as patriotic Americans, there should be no question that they would honor the office of the president of the United States with this request. Simon’s speech silenced everybody in the room.

DeFrantz

Anita DeFrantz

Sport: rowing (women’s eight)

A bronze medalist at the 1976 Games, DeFrantz put her legal career on hold to chase gold in 1980. She has been a member of the USOC board of directors and the IOC since 1986.

I looked around the room, and there were so many people who haven’t been to a USOC meeting before and they didn’t really know what they were doing. They didn’t know really what they were voting on; they didn’t know much about athletes’ lives. They were people who could afford to get to the meeting primarily.

Moran

Mike Moran

Position: U.S. Olympic Committee chief communications officer

Working with the USOC from 1978 to 2003, Moran was at the center of some of the biggest Olympic stories, from the 1980 Miracle on Ice to the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan episode in 1994. Moran died July 7 at the age of 78.

Then came the somber vote.

Don Miller, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, reads a resolution that was adopted by the USOC’s House of Delegates supporting a boycott of the 1980 Summer Games. (Ed Andrieski/AP) (Ed Andrieski/Associated Press)

The delegates voted by secret ballot. The boycott passed by a 2-to-1 margin. The final tally: 1,604 to 798, with delegates casting multiple votes apportioned according to the sports organizations they represented. Mondale at the time called the vote “truly a referendum on freedom” and said, “What is at stake is no less than the future security of the civilized world.”

Gaines

Rowdy Gaines

Sport: swimming (freestyle)

Gaines set 10 world records leading into the Moscow Games and was a podium favorite in four events. He went on to win three gold medals at the 1984 Olympics and is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

I remember the day vividly, like it happened yesterday. Our coach [at Auburn] called a meeting, Richard Quick. We went in this classroom at Haley Center, a basketball arena … and he told us. It was hard to take at the time.

Blazejowski

Carol Blazejowski

Sport: basketball (forward)

A three-time all-American, Blazejowski averaged 31.7 points per game at Montclair State and was considered one of the best players in the world, leading the U.S. team in scoring at the 1979 world championships.

We were in barracks — they were essentially Army barracks — two to a room. We congregated to one of the rooms, and the coaching staff told us. It was total disbelief and such emotional highs and lows at that point. And really uncertainty — now what? What does that mean? You didn’t understand the consequences of it. It really was almost a surreal message that was being delivered to us.

Hightower

Stephanie Hightower

Sport: track and field (100-meter hurdles)

Running for Ohio State, Hightower didn’t lose a collegiate 100-meter hurdle race from 1977 to 1980. A four-time national champion, she just missed making the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, finishing fourth in a famous four-way photo finish.

I was so naive. Many of us were so naive. We just knew they were going to fix this. … It was up until the last moment when we knew we couldn’t get on the plane. I mean, we had plane tickets. We had everything. We were ready to go.

Eleven days after the vote, DeFrantz and 24 other athletes filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the USOC, contending the boycott violated their constitutional rights.

DeFrantz

Anita DeFrantz

Sport: rowing (women’s eight)

A bronze medalist at the 1976 Games, DeFrantz put her legal career on hold to chase gold in 1980. She has been a member of the USOC board of directors and the IOC since 1986.

Who am I? … I was hoping to make the team and win my gold medal with my team. I was just insignificant. I didn’t know what I was doing. And here I am fighting the most powerful person on the face of the Earth.

On May 16, 1980, a judge ruled against the athletes, saying: “We can find no justification and no authority for the expansive reading of the Constitution which plaintiffs urge. To find as plaintiffs recommend would be to open the floodgates to a torrent of lawsuits. The courts have correctly recognized that many of life’s disappointments, even major ones, do not enjoy constitutional protection. This is one such instance.”

DeFrantz

Anita DeFrantz

Sport: rowing (women’s eight)

A bronze medalist at the 1976 Games, DeFrantz put her legal career on hold to chase gold in 1980. She has been a member of the USOC board of directors and the IOC since 1986.

We immediately appealed. … Got denied at an appeals level and, of course, the Supreme Court would’ve been the next level. And we would’ve gone there except we counted votes and we were missing one.

A memo to Cutler from Nelson Ledsky, head of the State Department’s task force on the boycott, revealed how the United States was rallying the global community against the Summer Olympics. “We have already substantially damaged the Moscow Games,” the memo read, “and we clearly can inflict still greater harm, even if we can not succeed in getting the Games postponed altogether.”

DeFrantz

Anita DeFrantz

Sport: rowing (women’s eight)

A bronze medalist at the 1976 Games, DeFrantz put her legal career on hold to chase gold in 1980. She has been a member of the USOC board of directors and the IOC since 1986.

Basically, the U.S. government was trying to destroy the Olympic movement. They didn’t understand it, and they thought they could just make it go away because they wouldn’t do what the president of the United States asked them to do. And that was really embarrassing.

Lenin Stadium — overseen by a statue of Vladimir Lenin — was the main site for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. (AP) (Associated Press/Associated Press)

As spring turned to summer, athletes continued competing, earning spots on a team that had no hopes of participating in Moscow. Still, the USOC was contemplating ways to honor its Olympic team.

Moran

Mike Moran

Position: U.S. Olympic Committee chief communications officer

Working with the USOC from 1978 to 2003, Moran was at the center of some of the biggest Olympic stories, from the 1980 Miracle on Ice to the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan episode in 1994. Moran died July 7 at the age of 78.

We had no money, but we decided anyways to spend over $1 million to take the entire team that we picked to Washington, D.C., at the time the Games started in Moscow, and we would for a week in Washington give them dinners and barbecues and boat rides and performing at the Kennedy Center by musicians.

Mills

Gene Mills

Sport: wrestling (114 pounds)

A member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Mills was a two-time NCAA champion and a gold medal favorite in 1980, when he was named athlete of the year by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Our coach probably had to coax me to go harder than anybody. I kept telling him I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to see [Carter]. I was afraid of what I would do. … I went, but it wasn’t easy being there. I could’ve been on the other side of the world, wrestling for my gold.

Galimore

Ron Galimore

Sport: gymnastics (vault, floor)

A four-time NCAA national champion from Iowa State, Galimore was the first African American to make the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team and was a medal favorite in vault and floor exercise in 1980.

I was sitting in the Kennedy Center with my mother and my sister. … It really hit me what I had accomplished and what had been taken away. I just lost it at that point. I ran out of the building. I was in tears.

DeFrantz

Anita DeFrantz

Sport: rowing (women’s eight)

A bronze medalist at the 1976 Games, DeFrantz put her legal career on hold to chase gold in 1980. She has been a member of the USOC board of directors and the IOC since 1986.

We did two things. We had these stickers that said, “We’re here to make sure this never happens again.” Enough stickers were made to pass out to everyone who wanted them. We didn’t say you had to put them on, and most of us put them on our cowboy hats. The rowers also had T-shirts made up that said on the front, “U.S. Olympic Rowing Team,” and on the back it said, “Threat to National Security.”

Gaines

Rowdy Gaines

Sport: swimming (freestyle)

Gaines set 10 world records leading into the Moscow Games and was a podium favorite in four events. He went on to win three gold medals at the 1984 Olympics and is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

We all got to meet the president. Each one of us got to shake his hand. I got a picture of him with me shaking his hand with a stupid cowboy hat on. It was all just a show for him, to be quite honest with you.

Blazejowski

Carol Blazejowski

Sport: basketball (forward)

A three-time all-American, Blazejowski averaged 31.7 points per game at Montclair State and was considered one of the best players in the world, leading the U.S. team in scoring at the 1979 world championships.

The president and some of his dignitaries said things, but it was, “Rah-rah, Team USA, this is for the country. We’re all in this together.” We didn’t buy it. Our dreams were up in smoke.

The Moscow Games began July 19. Sixty-five other countries joined the United States in boycotting. The Soviet Union topped the medal table, and the Olympics received scant attention in the United States.

Blazejowski

Carol Blazejowski

Sport: basketball (forward)

A three-time all-American, Blazejowski averaged 31.7 points per game at Montclair State and was considered one of the best players in the world, leading the U.S. team in scoring at the 1979 world championships.

It took me, personally, a long time to get over that. It really did. I was physically sick — not that I feel I failed, but I feel I just didn’t quite get to the top of the heap.

Galimore

Ron Galimore

Sport: gymnastics (vault, floor)

A four-time NCAA national champion from Iowa State, Galimore was the first African American to make the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team and was a medal favorite in vault and floor exercise in 1980.

The level of depression that hit was pretty hard, because it just derailed a lot of plans that I had post-competing in the Olympics.

Gaines

Rowdy Gaines

Sport: swimming (freestyle)

Gaines set 10 world records leading into the Moscow Games and was a podium favorite in four events. He went on to win three gold medals at the 1984 Olympics and is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

I’m sure that it would’ve changed the trajectory of a lot of people’s lives, because the gold medal doesn’t make things automatic, or a medal, but it certainly opens the doors. You still have to kind of bust it open, but it creaks a little bit wider and wider after you win that medal. It opens up so many opportunities.

That fall, with the economy suffering and the Iran hostage crisis dominating headlines, Carter’s reelection efforts sputtered. He carried just six states and Washington, D.C., and Ronald Reagan won the White House in a landslide. The Soviets did not fully withdraw troops from Afghanistan until 1989. Carter later called the Olympic boycott “one of my most difficult decisions,” but he has voiced no regret publicly. A spokesperson said Carter, now 95, was unavailable to comment.

Blazejowski

Carol Blazejowski

Sport: basketball (forward)

A three-time all-American, Blazejowski averaged 31.7 points per game at Montclair State and was considered one of the best players in the world, leading the U.S. team in scoring at the 1979 world championships.

We were innocent victims. This is supposed to be a united factor. How can they put us in the middle of this conflict? Didn’t make sense to any of us.

Eizenstat

Stuart Eizenstat

Position: chief White House domestic policy adviser

Eizenstat has served in three U.S. administrations, including as ambassador to the European Union under President Bill Clinton, and authored the 2018 book “President Carter: The White House Years.”

It was a very painful thing to look these young kids in the eye. It was painful. … It’s something that many, many years later he reflected on but still had no regrets. He felt that, had he let them go, as nice as it would have been for the several hundred athletes, it would have sent a dissident signal to the Soviet Union at a time when we needed to show firmness across the board.

Mills

Gene Mills

Sport: wrestling (114 pounds)

A member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Mills was a two-time NCAA champion and a gold medal favorite in 1980, when he was named athlete of the year by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Basically, he crushed my dreams. I felt like he had crushed my life. At the time, I felt like he had crushed my life.

An American flag is waved from the stands of Lenin Stadium during the Closing Ceremonies of the 1980 Moscow Games. (AP) (Associated Press/Associated Press)

In all, the 1980 U.S. Olympic team numbered 466 athletes. While some, such as DeFrantz, had competed at the 1976 Games and others, such as Gaines, competed in 1984, more than 200 never had another shot at an Olympics.

Hightower

Stephanie Hightower

Sport: track and field (100-meter hurdles)

Running for Ohio State, Hightower didn’t lose a collegiate 100-meter hurdle race from 1977 to 1980. A four-time national champion, she just missed making the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, finishing fourth in a famous four-way photo finish.

When you look in the USOC roster, the ’80 Olympic team’s listed. But it’s not the same as actually having the opportunity to compete. It will never be the same.

DeFrantz

Anita DeFrantz

Sport: rowing (women’s eight)

A bronze medalist at the 1976 Games, DeFrantz put her legal career on hold to chase gold in 1980. She has been a member of the USOC board of directors and the IOC since 1986.

Unless you compete at the Games, your name will not be in any of the records of the Olympic movement, and you will not be an Olympian unless you compete at the Games. And that was a horrible, horrible thing that I had to tell people. I didn’t know it in 1980. … It wasn’t until a few years later when I become an IOC member and I understood how you become an Olympian that I understood that 250 or so members of my 1980 team would not be Olympians unless they competed some time thereafter, and many did not. For many, 1980 was the end of their road.

Blazejowski

Carol Blazejowski

Sport: basketball (forward)

A three-time all-American, Blazejowski averaged 31.7 points per game at Montclair State and was considered one of the best players in the world, leading the U.S. team in scoring at the 1979 world championships.

I’ll always be an Olympian. Whether we competed or whether we didn’t compete doesn’t make me not a member of an Olympic team. I’m part of that very special group.

Rick Maese

Rick Maese is a sports features writer for The Washington Post. He has written about the NFL since joining The Post in 2009, including three seasons as beat writer for the Washington Redskins.

Jorge Ribas

Jorge Ribas is a video journalist on the National desk at The Washington Post. He joined the Post in 2014 after having spent five years at Discovery as a science reporter. Jorge has documented immigration, health care and maternity leave issues as well as covered major breaking news events.