The Olympic Games should have begun this Friday with the lighting of the Olympic flame, but, as we all know, it has become one of the biggest sports events to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.
Laureus Academy Member Edwin Moses, one of the greatest giants of track and field, agrees that Tokyo 2020 had to be postponed. And, in interview with Laureus.com, he says he still cannot help drawing parallels between the current situation and the Moscow Olympics of 1980.
Today the world’s athletes may be disappointed, but they are able to come back next year to compete for sporting glory, but 40 years ago for Moses and the entire US Olympic Team it was the end of their dreams due to an American boycott because of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
Moses speaks passionately. “Of course the 2020 Olympics should have been postponed. There was no way as an athlete or as the Olympic family you can accumulate hundreds of thousands of people any place on Earth right now.
“The experience I had in 1980 was different. It was crushing not to be able to go, after building up to it for a year. I gave up my job as an engineer to train specifically for the 1980 Games so it was heart-breaking to have to sacrifice my career.
“But I was one of the lucky ones who was able to hang around for another four years which made it eight years from my first Olympic gold medal in 1976 to 1984 in Los Angeles. But out of the 466 in the US Olympic team, there were 219 who never had the opportunity again, so for them that was the end of the road.”
It’s history now, but Moses is adamant the 1980 boycott was wrong, though he says he doesn’t think about it any more, even though, by universal agreement, Moscow would have brought him a third Olympic 400 metres hurdles gold medal to go along with 1976 and 1984.
He recalls: “The 1980 decision was definitely wrong. It’s been written that Walter Mondale, the Vice President, expressed that he was sorry to the athletes, and I believe that President Jimmy Carter has to one or two athletes, but I’ve never spoken to any of them about it.
“I probably would have had to fall down or get sick or break a leg in order to not win, I broke the world record in Milan July 3, 1980, about two weeks before the Games and ran 47.13 secs. The gold medal was won in 48.6, so no doubt the medal would have been mine if I’d been able to get around the track.
“For me I went back two more times [1984 and 1988] so it wasn’t that big of a deal for me. I just feel a lot worse for the athletes that didn’t have a chance to compete at all, the ones that never went back.
“I’m sure that the people who voted for the boycott had their arm twisted by the Federal Government. I just say shame on those people, especially on those who were athletes, who just caved into the pressure. They didn’t stand for the principle of the athletes having a right to compete.”
Moses sympathises with the plight of athletes who have to revise their training schedule for 2021. Though he suggests a relaxed option.
“If I was an athlete and if I was able to travel with 15 months to go I would be somewhere with a cocktail or beer in my hand, soaking up the sun. The problem athletes have is that everyone is under shelter rules and can’t go anywhere. I think that is probably the worst part of being an athlete and waiting for the Games.
“Some athletes will need the extra time, for others it will work against them, but in any case they’ve got an extra 15 months to get ready for the Olympics and basically they have to start all over.”
Who are going to be the winners and the losers in this delay? Moses identifies two athletes.
“Simone Biles has been starring for the last year and this year she’s absolutely at her peak. I’m sure she would have liked the Olympic Games to go on because another year at her age for a gymnast could be very dicey, plus the injury factor.
“And then there’s Kerri Walsh Jennings, the beach volleyball player from the United States. I’ve actually spoken to her about it. She’ll be 42 at that point. She’s a five-time Olympian so time is not on her side, so she’s got to really hang in there and figure out ways to continue to keep her drive. So those two Americans really epitomise the challenges of the Olympic Games.”
Moses, as Chairman of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, is also concerned that, despite the coronavirus issues, Laureus is able to continue supporting the more than 200 community sports programmes which it helps to fund every year to help disadvantaged young people.
He says: “Because of travel and lockdown restrictions there’s not a lot that we can do other than support our project leaders and the kids and encourage them to stay at home.
“For 20 years, Laureus has been committed to helping young people around the world, often in difficult circumstances. Now, coronavirus has changed all our perceptions. Illness and fear of the unknown are casting a shadow over our lives.
“Laureus Sport for Good believes in bringing people together and building bridges between communities and individuals. Today there is more need for this than ever as the nations of the world co-operate to share understanding and expertise to beat this menace.”
Laureus Sport for Good is a global charity that supports children and young people by using the power of sport to end violence, discrimination, and disadvantage. It operates under the fundamental belief that the achievement of this ambition is best delivered by ending the social issues that affect the younger generation and changing their lives for the better.
Over the last 20 years, Laureus Sport for Good has raised more than €150m for the Sport for Development sector, reaching and helping change the lives of almost 6 million children and young people since 2000. Laureus Sport for Good currently supports more than 200 programmes in over 40 countries that use the power of sport to transform lives.