Politics and the golden foot at the 1980 Olympics

Moscow Summer Olympics 1980, photo: CTK

Part of the American response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was a threat to boycott the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. The Soviet troops stayed put and the boycott went ahead, led by US President Jimmy Carter. To a greater or lesser extent, dozens of countries joined the protest.

Moscow Summer Olympics 1980, photo: CTK
A few weeks before the games began, Czechoslovak Radio broadcast an edition of its regular feature “Spektrum”, condemning the boycott:

“This is short-term politics. Not only does it damage the Olympic Games, but the whole Olympic movement. The main victims of this campaign by the American president are the athletes themselves.”

The radio’s correspondent in New York, Michal Stasz, quoted several American athletes who opposed the boycott, as well as one senior American Olympic official, former decathlete Bob Mathias, who stated:

“Our position is that we should have the games in Moscow. Let’s beat the heck out of them and let the politicians do something else….”

At this point in the correspondent’s report, the English fades under the translation. The phrase about “beating the heck out of them” remains untranslated!

The Olympics went ahead as planned, although just 80 countries took part, the lowest number since 1956. On July 19, a spectacular opening ceremony was held in Moscow’s Lenin Statium, with Czechoslovak Radio and Television reporting live. Czechoslovakia sent over 200 athletes, who came home with 14 medals, including two golds.

Jindřich Svoboda scores against East Germany, photo: CTK
The final of the football was between Czechoslovakia and the 1976 champions East Germany, who had knocked out the Soviet hosts in the semis. Thirteen minutes before the final whistle Jindřich Svoboda scored, with a winning goal that earned him the nickname “the golden foot”. The East German keeper had managed to stop his header, but Svoboda had kicked the ball in on the rebound. He later joked that he nearly became “the golden head”.

Politics continued to beset the Summer Olympics, and four years later in 1984 it was tit for tat as the communist countries boycotted the games in Los Angeles. The shot putter Helena Fibingerová, who had won bronze in 1976 and was looking forward to her fourth Olympics, told Czechoslovak Radio that she was heartbroken to be staying at home, but she also made a point of adding:

“I share the view of our Olympic Committee, because in certain circles an abnormal situation has emerged, which threatens the purity of the Olympic spirit, and we all need to understand this.”

Eight years later, following the end of the Cold War, the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992 were the first in two decades to be boycott-free. They were also the last to include Czechoslovakia as a single country.

The episode featured today was first broadcast on May 21, 2009.

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