Oct 5, 2012, 12:19 PM EDT
When Russia hosted the 1980 Moscow Olympics, they were part of a Soviet Union waging a war in Afghanistan that later inspired “Rambo III” (and arguably sewed the seeds for other international conflicts). The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. didn’t get along too well back then, so America took its ball home and refused to play (oh, and 64 other countries also boycotted the Games). So, in case you weren’t alive or couldn’t watch because geopolitics got in the way, here are five possibly notable things that happened at the 1980 Summer Olympics:
1. In one of the most legendary moments in British Olympic history, middle distance runner Sebastian Coe narrowly lost to fellow countryman Steve Ovett in a dramatic 800m, an event in which Coe held the world record. Six days later in the 1,500m, Ovett’s signature event, Coe held off Ovett in the final lap to win gold in the 1,500m while Ovett finished settled for bronze. Coe went on to head the British commission that oversaw the 2012 London Games.
2. Russian fencer Vladimir Smirnov won gold in the men’s individual foil competition. Smirnov died two years later when, at the World Championships in Rome, his opponent’s foil snapped and the jagged blade punctured Smirnov’s mask and drove through his eye and into his brain. His death prompted tighter safety regulations of the sport, including of helmets – until then, players often gained a competitive edge by secretly removing some of the heavy protective steel bars in the facemask so they could move more quickly.
3. Much of the competition was diluted due to the 80-country field, the fewest participating countries since 1956. As a result, Russia’s Aleksandr Dityatin became the first Olympian to win eight medals in a single Games when he finished on the podium in every men’s gymnastics competition. He probably loves those medals no less, despite whatever people may say about that year’s competitive field.
4. East German kayaker Birgit Fischer won gold in the women’s K-1 500m competition. That achievement gained more significance when she went to win gold medals in the 1988, ’92, ’96, 2000 and ’04 Olympics as well. She missed out on the 1984 Los Angeles Games when the U.S.S.R. retaliated with their own boycott.
5. In probably another of many examples of what happens when many of the world’s best athletes can’t compete in the Olympics, Spain and Bulgaria earned their first-ever medals in men’s track, while Britain’s Allan Wells won a photo finish in the 100m to bring home his country’s first Olympic title in the event since 1924. His 10.25 seconds wouldn’t have even put him on podium four years earlier in Montreal.
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