Few in America could have felt more distress over the Soviet Olympic pullout—news and analysis of which occupy a substantial part of this issue—than SI associate editor Anita Verschoth. She loves the Games, and since 1964 she has covered them all for us, Winter and Summer. Verschoth's medal picks have been a staple of our Olympic preview issues since 1972. But now she would have to prepare a list of those Communist-bloc athletes who should have won medals. This she has done, with the assistance of writer-reporter Bob Sullivan (page 23).
On Tuesday of last week, Verschoth had coffee and croissants at a New York hotel with Monique Berlioux, director of the International Olympic Committee—neither of them aware of the storm about to break—after the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony at the United Nations. At noon in her Manhattan apartment Verschoth got a phone call from SI contributing photographer Jerry Cooke, another veteran Olympic hand, who said he had heard the Soviets were withdrawing. Seeking confirmation, Verschoth phoned a journalist friend in East Berlin. He told her he'd heard nothing of it; it must be a Reuters fabrication. One hour later the same journalist confirmed that he had received the announcement.
After conferring with assistant managing editor Mark Mulvoy, Verschoth booked seats on two flights, one of which she suspected IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch might be taking to Switzerland following talks with President Reagan in Washington. At New York's Kennedy Airport, she checked a bag through to Geneva, and waited.
Samaranch, meanwhile, was also waiting, on a runway in Washington, because of bad weather. He missed both Swiss-bound planes. Verschoth went home; her bag went to Geneva.
May 20, 1984
Next day she reached Samaranch, who had made it to Lausanne, by phone, and he promised her an interview on Thursday. Verschoth flew to Switzerland, where Samaranch told her he would "fight until the last minute" to persuade the Soviets to change their minds, a pledge he repeated on Friday at a press conference (above) in Lausanne.
Returning to New York, Verschoth began typing her notes on the plane. When one passenger complained, the steward put him in first class. When more passengers complained, Verschoth was asked to move to the last row. It was that kind of week.
Verschoth reflected on the moments of elation she had experienced at the Games—watching Wyomia Tyus win her second gold medal in the 100 in Mexico City, viewing the towering 400-and 800-meter double by Cuba's Alberto Juantorena at Montreal in 76.
"I feel really very sad that the Soviets and the others aren't coming," Verschoth says. "I don't just care about the Americans. I care about all the athletes who should be there. It's like the pain you feel in your stomach when you have had a great disappointment."