BOULDER, Colorado, January 1. WHEN the United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow, hundreds of American athletes' dreams were shattered. One of those athletes was swimmer Ron Neugent.
Neugent, 47, had been a rising talent on the distance swimming scene when the boycott was announced. A year earlier, he surprised everyone by winning the mile at the World University Games in Mexico City. At the 1980 Trials, Neugent qualified for his first Olympic Team in the 1500m free, while also taking fourth in the 400m I.M. Unfortunately, he and the rest of the American contingent would never get the opportunity to compete in the Games.
"It was disappointing at the time, but a lot of the guys stuck around and kept training for 1984. The boycott affected everyone," he said.
Neugent would not make the 1984 team, though he continued to be a key player in American swimming. In 1981, he was a member of the U.S. squad that defeated the Soviets in a dual meet in Kiev.
In 1987 Neugent began swimming Masters, but he couldn't sleep on the final outcome of the boycott. He and fellow 1980 teammate Dave Sims worked for years to earn the U.S. athletes the recognition they deserved, researching awards and writing letters. Finally, in early December, the 466 members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team were awarded Congressional Gold Medals for their accomplishments.
Neugent is married now and has two young children. Swimming remains an important part of his life, though his goals no longer include making an Olympic Team.
"I'm getting older, and I have more stiffness than I used to. More lower back pain, more aches," he said. "When I swim in the morning, I just feel better the whole day. I had a pacemaker put in a few years ago, so that's definitely motivation to keep up with my workouts too!"
Olympic medal or not, Ron Neugent has cemented himself as a role model for swimmers of all ages.