The Olympic glass is either one-third empty or two-thirds full, depending on whether you're looking from the perspective of the boycott or from the floor of Lenin Stadium this Saturday. The 62 nations not in Moscow see emptiness, a vessel that has lost too much. The 83 countries represented in Moscow figure that even two-thirds of an Olympic glass should be enough to quench a thirst. In truth, the Moscow Games will provide only a few good sips, but these, indeed, could be vintage.
Among those to be savored:
•Men's 1,500-meter run (Friday, Aug. 1)
•Women's gymnastics (Sunday, July 20 through Friday, July 25)
•Pole vault (Wednesday, July 30)
•Soccer (Saturday, Aug. 2)
•10,000 meters (Sunday, July 27)
•Superheavyweight weightlifting (Wednesday, July 30)
•Women's high jump (Saturday, July 26)
•Heavyweight boxing (Thursday, July 31)
•Women's 100-meter dash (Saturday, July 26)
First and foremost at Moscow is the intriguing case of Coe vs. Ovett. Since their lone meeting in 1978—a race neither man won—Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett of Great Britain have avoided facing each other. Now, as they race at last at 1,500 meters (and possibly at 800), each seemingly invincible, they are the centerpiece of the Olympics. Coe holds the world record in both events (1:42.4 and 3:32.1), but Ovett, winner of 39 consecutive races in the 1,500 or the mile, has the second-fastest time in the 1,500 as well as the mile record (3:48.8). Whereas Coe is amiable, open and a runner chasing records, Ovett is brusque, private and a consummate racer usually content to beat his man, not the clock.
July 20, 1980
Another rivalry, one that started at the 1976 Olympics, will highlight women's gymnastics, an event left almost unscathed by the boycott. Lest we forget, Romania's Nadia Comaneci did not win all five individual gold medals at Montreal. She won three (balance beam, uneven parallel bars and all-around). The other two (floor exercises and vault) went to Nelli Kim of the Soviet Union. Both gymnasts will compete again in Moscow as favorites, even though at ages 22 (Kim) and 18 (Comaneci) they're getting rather old for this sort of thing. And, assuredly, somewhere in the bloc lurks another dazzler.
Two slightly more grizzled veterans will be out to win a third gold medal in the heaviest divisions of weightlifting and boxing. No man has ever gotten three golds in either sport in any weight class. Vasily Alexeyev, the 38-year-old superheavyweight whose two-lift total of 970 pounds set a world record in 1976, has a new challenger this time: Evgeni Popov, a young Bulgarian who was second in the most recent European championship. But Alexeyev also has the home crowd, and in the U.S.S.R. he is a hero.
Cuba's Teofilo Stevenson, another national idol, ventures abroad every four years, just long enough to knock out a promising American heavyweight and go on to take the gold medal. Even without a Duane Bobick or John Tate to flatten, Stevenson, now 28, should win his third gold and help the Cubans in their team's battle with the U.S.S.R. and Poland. Strangely, there is a U.S. citizen who could come home with a medal. The Puerto Rican Olympic Committee, in response to President Carter's boycott demand, sent "one symbolic athlete" to Moscow. He is boxer Alberto Mercado, who is a favorite in the 112-pound class.
Four track and field events slightly weakened by the boycott but still worth watching are the 10,000, the women's 100 and high jump, and the pole vault. Lasse Viren, who won both the 5,000 and the 10,000 in 1972 and 1976, may attempt another double in Moscow. He won't have to face America's Craig Virgin in the 10,000, but he will run his 25 laps alongside Tanzania's Suleiman Nyambui and Ethiopia's ageless Miruts Yifter, the 1979 World Cup champion. If Viren wins the 10,000, he can choose to finish his work with either the 5,000 or the marathon, but not both, as he did in Montreal. The marathon begins at 5:15 p.m., Friday, Aug. 1, the 5,000 final 80 minutes later.
Were Evelyn Ashford of the U.S. to be on hand, the women's 100 would be a superb three-way race. Instead, with "only" new world-record holder Lyudmila Kondratyeva of the U.S.S.R. and former record holder Marita K‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√ách of East Germany present, it will be merely a superb duel. The same is true of the women's high jump, which offers 1976 Olympic champ Rosie Ackermann of East Germany and world-record holder Sara Simeoni of Italy but doesn't include Canada's Debbie Brill, the top-ranked jumper in 1979. The pole vault, on the other hand, still has the three best vaulters, each of whom has broken a world record this spring. On May 11, Poland's Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz cleared 18'9¼". Three weeks later Thierry Vigneron of France bumped Kozakiewicz from the record book with a vault of 18'10¼", and five weeks after that, preferring to be different, Soviet vaulter Konstantin Volkov set an indoor record of 18'8¼".
But what about the empty part of the glass? When the U.S., Japan, West Germany, Canada and 58 other countries spilled out, which sports suffered the most? One has to be swimming, which would have featured two dozen exciting races among the East German, Soviet and American teams. Sippy Woodhead, Tracy Caulkins, Mary Meagher and Rowdy Gaines—or perhaps Vladimir Salnikov and Petra Schneider—would have been the talk of Red Square. But not this year.
Another casualty was men's track and field. The high jump would have matched 1976 gold medalist Jacek Wszola of Poland against West Germany's Dietmar Mogenburg; each has cleared a world-record 7'8½" this year. The decathlon would have brought together Great Britain's Daley Thompson, who broke Bruce Jenner's world record in May, and West Germany's Guido Kratschmer, who topped Thompson's mark in June. Mac Wilkins of the U.S. would have been a top choice to win the discus. Rendered meaningless by the boycott are both men's hurdles races.
One rumor had no teams at all showing up for the field-hockey competition, which, like the equestrian events, is being boycotted for lack of competition by some nations. Archery and basketball medals mean little when the U.S. stays home, and the same holds for judo without Japan.
Two-thirds full? Maybe less.