US Olympic panel looks past Moscow to an upbeat L.A.
Colorado Springs, Colo.
It's time to consign the traumatic events of 1980 to history and bend all efforts toward the exciting new Olympiad, culminating with the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
This was the overriding message at the United States Olympic Committee's quadrennial meeting here as the House of Delegates elected new officers, sounded a call for unity, and approved a record $71.2 million budget for the next four years.
The upbeat mood was in sharp contrast to the bitterness, frustration, and anger accompanying the previous gathering of the delegates last April for the historic vote that took the United States out of the Moscow Olympics. In fact, even as the newly elected president, William E. Simon, and other committee leaders talked glowingly of the future, none could resist looking back for at least this one more moment.
"The most frustrating period in the history of the USOC was the 103 days between Jan. 1, when the boycott issue was first raised in the British Parliament, and April 12, when the USOC House of Delegates voted 1,704 to 697 against participation," executive director F. Don Miller said.
"The sovereignty of the USOC may have been sorely tested because of the many external pressures, including those from the executive branch of the government, the 96th Congress . . . and the American public," he added. "But when all was said and done, it was the vote of the delegates . . . which made the decision."
Retiring committee president Robert J. Kane, in an emotional farewell address to the 275 delegates representing a wide variety of sports organizations throughout the country, also could not refrain from a few parting shots.
"We had the President of the United States uncharacteristically hard-fisted and determined in his insistence we not go," Kane said. He spoke also of "unofficial but putative government threats to take up our passports, to withdraw USOC designation as a coordinating body, and to remove our tax-exempt status if we didn't go along."
But upon reflection, he said, "I am certain we took the only proper course . . . . To have defied the President, the Congress, and the wishes of the American people would have been suicidal for the USOC [and] a cruel setback to the Olympic movement in our country."
Kane said the boycott "was not a success," because so may US allies took part at Moscow.
"But had these countries followed the US lead in not going, I am certain the International Olympic Committee would have called off the Games," he declared, adding that such an action would have destroyed or at the very least dreadfully hurt the worldwide Olympic movement.
"And what is virtually certain is that . . . the Soviets and their satellites would not have gone to Los Angeles," he said. "Their pride would not have permitted them to do so. But as it is, I believe they will be there. They do well in the Games, and they wouldn't miss a chance to show us up on our own turf."
Simon, who served as US Treasury secretary under Presidents Nixon and Ford, echoed these sentiments. Recalling his own speech to the delegates last April (he has been involved with the USOC for 15 years and served as treasurer of the organization for the last four), he said in an interview:
"I strongly supported the position that when the President of the United States asks us to do something for reasons of national security, we take that action. It was a tragic situation, obviously. But in my judgment we have emerged stronger and more united than ever before."
Various speakers noted that the boycott was far from the only major development in the just-concluded quadrennium.
There were the 1980 Winter Games at Lake Placid, of course, capped by the spectacular success of the US hockey team and speed skater Eric Heiden.And there were such other highlights as the establishment of National Training Centers here and in Squaw Valley, Calif. (the latter was eventually closed, but the hope is to create other centers elsewhere); inauguration of the National Sports Festival in 1978; adoption of a program designed to maximize athletic skills via the latest scientific techniques and equipment; and increased opportunities for top athletes to be reimbursed one way or another for time needed to train and compete.
Miller, in fact, contended that these and other accomplishments -- even in the face of the Moscow nonparticipation -- made 1977-80 "the most productive four years in the history of the USOC." Kane, in his farewell speech, agreed, citing especially the decision to join in a partnership with a group of private Los Angeles residents to put on the 1984 Games.
"The Games were about to be lost to the United States," Kane said, recalling the moment when the Los Angeles City Council refused to take financial responsibility. "It was the same sad script as in Denver for the Winter Games of 1976 -- a shameful second embarrassment that we could ill afford."
The solution, he noted, required persuading the International Olympic Committee to change its rules and award the Games to an agency rather than a city. Furthermore, it involved risk, because the USOC was taking full fiscal responsibility. But now, he said, all signs point to substantial profit.
The new officers include former Olympic oarsman John B. Kelly Jr., reelected first vice-president; Dr. Evie G. Dennis of Denver, second vice-president; Robert H. Helmick of Des Moines, third vice-president; Stephen B. Sobel of Rochelle Park, N.J., secretary; and Lawrence A. Hough of Vienna, Va., another former Olympic rower, treasurer.
In another major action, Indianapolis won out over Philadelphia as the site of the 1982 National Sports Festival.