Radio Moscow – News From the Olympics – Swimming Competition – July 1980 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Since the Tokyo Olympics begin tomorrow, July 23rd, I thought it would be interesting to look at Olympic games from other years and under other conditions to see how much has changed and how much really hasn’t.
July 1980 and the Olympics came to Moscow, and they would go down as one mired in controversy and politics. The games held were from 19 July to 3 August 1980 and were the first to be staged in Eastern Europe, and remain the only Summer Olympics held there, as well as the first Olympic Games and only Summer Olympics to be held in a Slavic language-speaking country. They were also the only Summer Olympic Games to be held in a communist country until the 2008 Summer Olympics held in China.
Eighty nations were represented at the Moscow Games, the smallest number since 1956. Led by the United States, 66 countries boycotted the games entirely because of the Soviet–Afghan War. Several alternative events were held outside of the Soviet Union. Some athletes from some of the boycotting countries (not included in the list of 66 countries that boycotted the games entirely) participated in the games under the Olympic Flag. The Soviet Union would later boycott the 1984 Summer Olympics. The Soviet Union won the most gold and overall medals, with the USSR and East Germany winning 127 out of 203 available golds.
Although approximately half of the 24 countries that boycotted the 1976 Summer Olympics (in protest against the IOC not expelling New Zealand who sanctioned a rugby tour of apartheid South Africa) participated in the Moscow Games, the 1980 Summer Olympics were disrupted by another, even larger, boycott led by the United States in protest of the 1979 Soviet–Afghan War. The Soviet invasion spurred President Jimmy Carter to issue an ultimatum on 20 January 1980, which stated that the U.S. would boycott the Moscow Olympics if Soviet troops did not withdraw from Afghanistan within one month. 65 countries and regions invited did not take part in the 1980 Olympics. Many of these followed the United States’ boycott initiative, while others cited economic reasons for not participating. Iran, under Ayatollah Khomeini hostile to both superpowers, boycotted when the Islamic Conference condemned the invasion.
Despite all that, the games went on. And even though there was very little coverage from the media (compared to other games), The Soviet Union was providing large scale coverage, including via Radio Moscow on shortwave.
Long before the days of streaming, the sound of the broadcasts was crude and filled with interference and distortion, and even listening to this 45 minute slice of the Women’s Swimming competition can be a little frustrating. But in some cases it was the only way you could hear the games as they were happening.
It’s a fair estimation that, even if you were around in 1980 and aware of the games, you may not have heard this broadcast before.
This was what the 1980 Moscow Olympics sounded like, for better or worse. History can be that way.
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