Here is James Dunaways’ thoughts on how the middle distances were affected by the boycott. I saw Seb Coe yesterday, walking around the stadium. We spoke for a second as I gave him a greeting from Mr. Dunaway.
LOOKING BACK: MOSCOW AND THE 1980 OLYMPICS
5. The Carter Boycott and the Olympic Middle Distances
The duals between Britain’s Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe over 800 and 1,500meters were the most-anticipated track and field races of the Moscow Games. You may remember that Ovett upset world record holder Coe in the 800 and Coe a few days later returned the favor at 1,500 by beating WR holder Ovett. Perhaps later in these columns I’ll have a chance to review these races in detail; they were unforgettable.
But I don’t think many people realize these races might have been even greater if there had been no Carter boycott. Exhibit A would be American Don Paige, who won the U.S. 800 Trials in the year’s fastest time, 1:44.53, and was world-ranked No. 1 for the year by Track & Field News. Page almost certainly would have medaled in the Moscow 800, and could very well have won it. The number two American, James Robinson, would likely have at least made the final. And, as Al Oerter once said, “Once you’re in the Olympic final, anything can happen.”
And in the 1,500, the “Carterized” missing stars included U.S. Trials winner Steve Scott, sub-3:50 miler John Walker of New Zealand, and West German Thomas Wessinghage, any one of whom could have medaled in Moscow, especially since Coe won that Olympic final in a slowish 3:38.4.
Yeah, I know – coulda, woulda, shoulda – but these five guys symbolize how enormous an effect the boycott had. All five should have been in the finals of their races, and they would have made a difference.
What about the women? While the Soviet women looked unbeatable – Nadezhda Olizaryenko won the 800 in a world-record 1:53.43, and Tatyana Kazankina won her second straight Olympic 1,500 in 3:56.6 – the two American Olympic Trials winners would have added spice, and had at least a shot at a medal. After a 12-year layoff from world-class competition, 33-year-old Madeline Manning won the 800 Trials in 1:58.30, just off her own American record. I think she deserved a chance to try herself against the Soviets. And Mary Decker, a “veteran” at age 21, won the 1,500 Trials and said, “I’m looking for a good one in August. That will be the peak of my season.”
But she never got the chance.