MOSCOW – Russians commemorated on Wednesday the 20th anniversary of the opening of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, seen in the country as an unqualified success despite a debilitating boycott by Western countries.

At the same time Vitaly Smirnov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee, took the opportunity to launch a bid for the 2012 Games.

More than 60 countries, led by the United States, stayed away from Moscow in 1980 in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, robbing the Games of some of the top name athletes of the day.

‘It was a monstrous blow by the Americans and their President [Jimmy Carter],’ Smirnov told a packed hall of former Olympic athletes and officials recalling the events of two decades ago.

‘But Carter gambled and lost. We had great Olympics, a great atmosphere, we witnessed excellent athletic performances.’

The Moscow Olympic Games, the first held in a communist country, were intended to underscore the achievements of a great athletic – and political – superpower.

The Games were officially opened by the ageing, doddering Communist Party Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev.

No effort was spared to ensure their success, including clearing the city of prostitutes, black market traders and the homeless.

Despite the boycott, the Moscow Olympics saw dozens of records fall and memorable performances by Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson and Soviet swimmer Vladimir Salnikov.

Salnikov set landmark

Salnikov became the first swimmer to break the 15 minute barrier in the 1,500 meters freestyle, setting a world record of 14 minutes 58.27 seconds.

‘Of course, we were saddened by the absence of top American swimmers who stayed away from Moscow,’ Salnikov, now 40, told Reuters on Wednesday.

‘I probably would have won anyway because I was already twice world champion and a world record holder in the 1,500 at the time,’ he added.

‘But I wanted to shed any doubts by winning in the most convincing fashion – to swim under 15 minutes – and that’s what I did.’

Moscow also launched the Olympic career of Juan Antonio Samaranch, elected President of the International Olympic Committee before the Games opened.

At next year’s IOC congress, also in Moscow, Samaranch is due to step down from his post after 21 years.

Smirnov, who spearheaded Moscow’s Olympic preparations at the time, admitted that politics had dictated the Soviet decision to keep its athletes away from the 1984 Games in Los Angeles – now seen as a mistake.

‘Unfortunately, our state leaders followed the Americans and decided in return to boycott the next Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984,’ he said.

Smirnov, an IOC member since 1971, taking advantage of a chance to launch a bid for the Games in 2012, said: ‘I sincerely hope that this generation will witness the Olympic Games come back to our country, to a new, democratic

Gennady Fyodorov Reuters

Source: SOCOG