USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland to 1980 Olympic Team: ‘You Deserved Better’


Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), released a letter on Twitter that she had sent to members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, apologizing for the effect the Olympic boycott had on them.

Hirshland’s letter marks the 40-year anniversary of those Games. It will be accompanied by highlighting the 1980 Olympic team on online and social media channels this week and a permanent tribute in the new U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs.

From the letter:

“It’s abundantly clear in hindsight that the decision not to send a team to Moscow had no impact on the global politics of the era and instead only harmed you – American athletes who had dedicated themselves to excellence and the chance to represent the United States.”

The U.S. government boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow amid escalating Cold War tensions. Ostensibly, the decision made by the administration of President Jimmy Carter was spurred by the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Though both Cold War powers participated in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, setting the stage for the Miracle on Ice, the U.S. did not participate in the Summer Games. In retaliation, the U.S.S.R. and other Eastern bloc nations boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

All of the political sabre rattling served to ultimately accomplish little, as Hirshland alluded to. The main consequence was denying the world a truly global athletic competition in summer Olympic sports from 1976 until the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In the pool, the Soviet men and East German women dominated in Moscow, though sans the opposition of America’s world-leading program, the feats were inherently diminished. Ditto what followed in Los Angeles in 1984, where the Americans won 21 of 30 gold medals against a limited field.

That black eye on the American Olympic movement has long been overlooked, and Hirshland’s head-on addressing of it on the 40th anniversary is something she hopes rectifies that oversight.

“Additionally, and importantly,” she wrote, “we will honor you and the role of sport as mechanisms of peace and cooperation by working to ensure that history informs both the present and the future.”

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