The boycott that dashed Olympic dreams in 1980

Their entire athletic careers had been devoted to competing at the Olympics, but they got tripped up by international politics.

Canadian government declined to send athletes to Moscow Games after Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

Canada joins boycott of 1980 Moscow Olympics

44 years ago
Duration 2:31
Swimmers and track athletes are dismayed by the Canadian government's decision.

In 1980, Canadian athletes whose sporting careers had been devoted to competing at the Olympics got tripped up by international events.

On April 22, 1980, Canadian Olympic hopefuls found out that Canada would be joining a U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow.

"Without any doubt at all, we won't be going to Moscow," swimming coach Tom Johnson said when breaking the news to swimmers gathered in a Vancouver pool.

The boycott was prompted by the December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union.

Women in swim caps inside swimming pool
Swimmers hoping to compete in the 1980 Moscow Olympics got the news it wouldn't be happening just minutes after the announcement in Ottawa. (The National/CBC News)

Athletes interviewed by CBC were unhappy about the decision, but also resigned to it.

"I guess we had to make a decision whether we were going to stand behind the Russians or the Americans," said swimmer Cheryl Gibson. "And it had to be the Americans." 

Sprinter Angella Taylor said she didn't see what difference a boycott would make.

"All the Canadian people say, 'Oh, it will show the Russian people,'" she said. "The Russian government is not answerable to their people. They never have been." 

Her coach, Charlie Francis, went even further.

"I think it'll be the end of the Olympic Games," he said. "I don't see the Soviets showing up at the '84 Games in the United States."

He was right about one thing: four years later, the Soviet Union led a boycott of the Games in Los Angeles. But the Olympic Games have continued every four years, although the 2020 Games were postponed to 2021 due to global Covid-19 pandemic.

'Stupid attempt'

Soviet kids have strong opinions on Olympic boycott

44 years ago
Duration 1:01
Two Moscow boys talk to a CBC reporter about their thoughts

Interviewed in Moscow after the boycott was announced, two adolescent Soviet boys who had been cross-country skiing adjacent to a city street offered their opinions.

"It's bad that they don't want to come to our games," said one boy in translation.

"This is a stupid attempt by the Americans, by [President] Carter," said another, also speaking Russian. "He's ... making propaganda, not letting the athletes come to the U.S.S.R."

"We hope many athletes will come, and they'll be welcome," he added.

'Nothing to work for'

Diane Jones Konihowski hopes to compete anyway

44 years ago
Duration 1:20
Despite the boycott, a Canadian pentathlete says she still wants a place at the Moscow Olympics

Canadian pentathlete Diane Jones Konihowski was another athlete affected by the boycott. Interviewed in New Zealand, where she was training, she said she disliked "all this political talk" that surrounded the Moscow Games.

"My life ... has been centred around this goal of attaining a medal in Moscow," she said. "And so, if that goal is taken away from us, we have nothing to work for right now."

Konihowski did not participate in the 1980 Games, but won her event at an alternate competition staged in Philadelphia that summer for athletes from countries supporting the boycott.

And at an event in Germany two weeks after the Moscow Olympics, she beat the recent winners of the Olympic gold and silver medals.

youth displays the flag of the United States
In this July 19, 1980 file photo an unidentified youth displays the flag of the United States during opening ceremonies at the Moscow Olympics. The United States did not attend the Olympics in Moscow but rather led a boycott in protest of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. (The Associated Press)

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