With Tokyo Games Uncertain, Steve Lundquist Recalls His 1980 Experience

Steve Lundquist

With Tokyo Games Uncertain, Steve Lundquist Recalls His 1980 Experience

Early one morning in 1980, Southern Methodist University freshman swimmer Steve Lundquist walked into practice at 5 a.m., and instead of greeting swimmers, he encountered a barrage of news reporters.

“I remember going to the natatorium and being met by a news crew,” Lundquist said. “They asked, ‘What do you think about the Olympics being canceled?'”

To refresh the background history for the reader, the 1980 Olympics were to be held in Moscow, Russia that summer. According to an article written by HISTORY, “On March 21, 1980, President Jimmy Carter (announces) that the U.S. will boycott the Olympic Games scheduled to take place in Moscow that summer. The announcement came after the Soviet Union failed to comply with Carter’s February 20, 1980, deadline to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.”

Lundquist, the world-record holder in the 100 breaststroke, was caught off guard by this earth-shattering news. As a freshman in college, he was not too concerned with the political unrest between the United States and Soviet Union. He definitely had been more focused on training for the Olympic Games that summer than worrying about political foreign issues.

Steve Lundquist by Bob Ingram 1986 (1)

Photo Courtesy: Bob Ingram / Swimming World Archive

Lundquist said: “I didn’t even hear about it going on. You know, in college you have other stuff going on. Thinking that you are going to get to go to Moscow and do your thing and at the last minute getting the rug pulled out from underneath you. The National Championships were moved to around the time of the Olympics, so that we could see how we stacked up as a team. It was sad for a lot of us. I sacrificed a lot for this, and I would have medaled.”

In lieu of competing in the Olympic Games, the United States held their National Championships following the Games. At the 1980 U.S. National Championships, Lundquist’s time in the 100-meter breaststroke was faster than the gold medal time at the Olympic Games in Moscow.

Even though Lundquist missed out on Olympic gold in 1980, he earned a second chance to compete in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. In 1984, he won two gold medals at the Olympic Games in the 100-meter breaststroke and 400-meter medley relay.

Lundquist vividly remembers the wait from 1980 to 1984.

“Four years is a long time to hang around in a sport,” he said. “In my day, when you finished college you were done! You were an old man at 23 or 24. Fortunately, I had a few years of college left after ‘80. I felt lucky compared to the guys that had moved locations, left their jobs, and sacrificed their money and time to train for Games that they could not compete in and could not wait around to try for another team.”

Although the current situation of the world is different than it was in 1980, the uncertainty of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games is similar. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, to be held in Tokyo, Japan, have thus far been postponed until summer of 2021. Certainly, swimmers around the globe are keeping hope that the Tokyo Games will go on as scheduled.

Lundquist shared his advice for Tokyo hopefuls.

“Adversity is what makes this sport so wonderful,” he noted. “You are always going to have adversity. Whether it be injury, coaching changes, venue changes, cold pools, or a changed diet, at the end of the day, the goal is to make the Olympic team.”