Her proclivity for sport, however, took a while to surface. It wasn't until DeFrantz was a student at Connecticut College that rowing coach Bart Gulong took a look at her rangy 5'11" frame and first got her into a shell. When Gulong eventually said she was talented enough to consider the Olympics, she was startled. "I didn't even know rowing was in the Olympics."
In point of fact it wasn't, but Gulong was aware that women's rowing would become an Olympic sport for the first time at Montreal. By then DeFrantz was at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and rowing for the Vesper Boat Club. In Montreal, the East Germans and Soviets held her U.S. crew to third, but DeFrantz figured she would have another chance in four years at Moscow. She went home, became a lawyer, bailed this poor misspoken marathoner out of a jam before the Senate committee, and soon was elected by the athletes to the Executive Board of the USOC.
That was all prologue. Now life turned contrary. One evening in January 1980, at a friend's birthday party, she caught a glimpse on TV of President Jimmy Carter announcing that because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, "I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow."
DeFrantz was astounded. "I said, "Huh? He must not understand.' The only people who could decide to surrender all they had worked for were the athletes themselves."
And DeFrantz, for one, wasn't about to surrender. For her, this was exactly the kind of political circumstance that the Olympic ideal was meant to transcend. "The boycott trivialized the Games," she says. "It brought them down to the level of trade embargoes." DeFrantz knew the USOC could enter a team in Moscow over the objections of the Carter Administration (Great Britain's Olympic Association eventually did this, defying the Thatcher government). She and a group of AAC athletes set out to convince the USOC to act against the directives of Carter.
DeFrantz, who became known as the voice and face of the opposition, learned what happens when you ask people to rise against the patriotic tide. "I was getting hate mail. I got visits from people I'm positive were FBI agents wanting to 'sympathize' with me." Meanwhile, she plowed her anxiety into her training and again made the Olympic team.
Yet she was becoming so persuasive that Carter sent Vice-President Walter Mondale to the April meeting of the USOC House of Delegates, where the final decision would be voted. "History holds its breath," said Mondale, and he asserted that a boycott was crucial to the nation's security. Behind the scenes, the Administration let it be known that it would dismember the USOC's funding if the organization didn't toe the line. Former Treasury Secretary William Simon, then USOC treasurer and later its president, spoke eloquently on the need to support Carter.
Then DeFrantz, in a memorable speech, said that the Olympic family surely sensed what was right. It simply needed the courage to do it. "We define our liberty by testing it," she said. "This is such a test." The 300 delegates cheered her, and then voted by 2 to 1 to bow to the boycott.
DeFrantz fought on, becoming the plaintiff in an unsuccessful lawsuit aimed at forcing the USOC to live up to its constitution and send a team to Moscow. "Anita was very unpopular with the USOC in those years," says then-AAC president Ed Williams.
But in other quarters DeFrantz, now that her competence had been revealed, was much sought after. She already was a USOC representative on the board of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. In 1981, Peter Ueberroth brought her onto the management team. She spent the months leading up to the Summer Games as the LAOOC's liaison with African nations, and was charged with the responsibility of heading off any black boycott. During the Games, she served as chief administrator of the Olympic Village at USC.