The Olympics were held in Moscow in 1980 when it was at the centre of the Soviet Union and under the thumb of President Brezhnev. By this time, the Soviet Union was in economic and political decline but that wasn’t immediately obvious to the rest of the world. What was only too clear was the growing hostility between Reagan’s America and the Kremlin. And the Olympics being in the USSR for the first time didn’t help matters.
In fairness to Reagan (and I’ll never use that phrase again) it was outgoing US president Jimmy Carter who urged a boycott of the Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This was at a time when the West thought radical Islamist groups were our friends and allies against communism – what a difference three decades makes!
The Moscow Olympics was not just notorious because of the Afghanistan boycott, it was also the scene of so much doping that it was referred to as the Chemists’ Games. We all knew there was something a bit odd about those East German athletes who won gold medals but seemed to be of indeterminate gender!
The opening ceremony was a riot of communist era chic – a Stalinist fantasy. Looks a bit weird now but very much in line with the May Day parades that used to roar through the Kremlin while a bunch of geriatric bureaucrats waved from the government podium.