Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

History lesson: If you don't like the Olympics, just make your own

43988 full
43988 full

This weekend, as I watched Dana Vollmer lose her cap, set a new world record and make us all feel a little bit better about Michael Phelps... I started some idle wiki-digging and learned a new thing. Or rediscovered something I had forgotten. Either way:

Did you know about the Liberty Bell Classic? The 1980 Summer Olympics were set to take place in Moscow. Not a popular choice for the US during the Cold War--in fact, we aggressively petitioned the International Olympic Committee not to hold the games there. It didn't work. Ostensibly in protest to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter called a boycott of the Moscow games.

It worked. In total, 65 nations skipped the 1980 Olympic Games. Some for political reasons, others because they couldn't afford to go. Other nations, like France and Belgium, ended up competing in Moscow, but flew an Olympic flag instead of their own. They also skipped the opening ceremony. 

For the boycotting nations, that created a new problem: literally hundreds of atheletes had trained for years to compete in the 1980 Olympics. What do you do with them? You make your own Olympics.

On July 16, 1980 athletes from 29 nations descended on Philadelphia for the first annual Liberty Bell Classic. Competitiors from Canada, Egypt, West Germany, even China all participated. It wasn't as big as your typical Olympic event: most of the competitions were limited to track and field. No gymnastics or swimming. How did the athletes take it? Some were ok, others--not so much. Here are a few reactions:

Four years later, the United States finally got its home turf games: 1984's Summer Olympic Games took place here in Los Angeles. But the USSR didn't forget. Acting in kind to Carter's boycott, 14 nations declined to participate in the 1984 Olympics. And like the United States, the Soviets hosted their own version of the Liberty Bell Classic.

The Friendship Games, as they were called, kicked off July of 1984 to considerably greater fanfare than our own Anti-Olympic Olympics. Nine Eastern Bloc nation played host to the games, and this time there was more than just track and field: athletes competed in archery, cycling, gymnastics, swimming and more. Here's a video of a Friendship Games ribbon competition from Japanese television:

All told, 39 nations were represented the Friendship Games, including Western bloc allies like the United Kingdom and West Germany--many nations sent their reserve athletes to compete. It wasn't until 1988--in Seoul, South Korea--that the entire world would again compete in the Summer Olympics. And this whole time, I thought the only place the Cold War showed up in the Olympics was in Lake Placid

blog comments powered by Disqus

Enjoy reading Off-Ramp? You might like KPCC’s other blogs.

What's popular now on KPCC