It began a little more than 30 years ago in Colorado Springs, on April 12 at the Antlers Hotel, when a battered and emotionally spent United States Olympic Committee voted to boycott the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow under withering pressure and underhanded politics from the Carter administration.
This summer marks the three-decade anniversary of this tragedy for 466 athletes, who were denied their dream and made pawns in a game that was never fair to them or the nation.
It was on July 26, 1980, when we came to Washington, the U.S. Olympic Team that wasn't. American athletes and our USOC staff and delegation had nowhere else to go while 5,512 athletes from 81 nations competed in Moscow, in the hollow Olympic Games boycotted by the U.S. and 65 other nations.
During a week of events staged by the USOC to celebrate the team, there was little talk of the Games going on in Moscow, no live television in the United States, and little in the newspapers of the day.
On a hot July 30 morning on the steps of the Capitol, we heard President Jimmy Carter thank the athletes for their sacrifice, telling them it would be significant in the effort to force the Soviets out of Afghanistan. To have gone to Moscow, he said, would have validated the USSR's incursion into Afghanistan in 1979.
When Carter departed, the American athletes, one by one, mounted the steps to receive special medals commissioned and paid for by the USOC, from its officers and sport leaders, medals eventually recognized in 2007 by the Congress of the United States as Congressional Gold Medals, the highest and most distinguished civilian award of our nation.
Years later, 1984 Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling gold medalist Jeff Blatnick, who was on that '80 team, told a story that startles me even now. He was on an airplane, flying from Bismarck, N.D., to Minneapolis and came upon former President Carter, seated in the first-class cabin.
"As soon as the plane gets up in the air and levels off, he gets up and starts saying hi to everybody," recalls Blatnick. "I say to the person next to me, 'I wonder how this is going to be.' He gets to me, I go, 'President Carter, I have met you before, I am an Olympian.' He looks at me and says, 'Were you on the 1980 hockey team?' I say, 'No sir, I'm a wrestler, on the summer team.' He says, 'Oh, that was a bad decision, I'm sorry.'
That is an understatement of Olympic proportion.
The USOC has yet to stage an event to recognize this special Olympic Team that wasn't, and now would be a good time. In fact, this team should be in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame as soon as possible.
There is a category in the Hall of Fame marked "Contributor," where this team as a whole deserves to be enshrined. Shouldn't the organization that bowed to political pressure and threats from Washington, sitting out the event most intrinsic to its core mission, now find a singular way to honor these men and women?
On Oct. 27, we will induct the noble 1980 U.S. Olympic women's volleyball team into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame. This star-crossed team lived and trained in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center in preparation for the 1980 Games. Its dream was shattered with the Moscow Olympic boycott, but a handful of players remained to win a silver medal at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, losing to China in the gold-medal game.
Coached by Arie Selinger, the team of Janet Baier, Carolyn Becker, Rita Crockett, Patty Dowdell, Laurie Flachmeier, Debbie Green, Flo Hyman, Laurel Brassey, Debbie Landreth, Diane McCormick, Terry Place and Sue Woodstra was considered a favorite for the volleyball gold medal in Moscow. So were many other great U.S. athletes that summer of 1980, like world gymnastics champion Kurt Thomas, basketball stars Carol Blazejowski, Isiah Thomas and Bill Hanzlik, swimmer Craig Beardsley and scores of others who will never know what might have been.
Mike Moran served as the U.S. Olympic Committee's chief spokesman through 13 Olympic Games (1980-2002), and is now a media consultant also working with the Colorado Springs Sports Corp.