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Kenny Moore
February 04, 1980
In the weeks before last Saturday's Oregon Indoor Track & Field Meet in Portland, the first U.S. event in which Soviet athletes were to participate since President Carter first threatened an Olympic boycott on Jan. 4, the Northwest hosted numbers of experienced and perceptive Olympians, all of them struggling to sort out the welter of hopes and goals and ideals that bear on the issue. In the difficult, often painful evolution of their thought could be seen the same rigor and honesty that carried them to their victories, their records. At the end of this melancholy passage, however, few of them see anything but a lasting division.
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February 04, 1980

The 'pawns' Make A Move

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"You find out somebody's organizing anything like that," said Jane Frederick with a catch in her throat, "and you sign me up to work for it."

But no alternative Games can meet the first requirement of an Olympics, that there be the toughest possible competition, that all the best gather to have it out on a given day. The Eastern bloc countries would attend no renegade Games, and the best that could be imagined would be parallel competitions going on for years until unity might be restored in a more placid time.

One more turning point in the athletes' discussions came last week, when Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet physicist, dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was arrested and sent to domestic exile in the off-limits city of Gorky. This coming only a week after Amnesty International had reported the detention of numerous Soviet dissidents who had attempted to monitor the U.S.S.R.'s compliance with the Helsinki agreement on human rights. It was as if the Soviet government had judged that it could take such actions with relative impunity, that it couldn't possibly get any more flak than it was already taking over the invasion of Afghanistan. But, in fact, what it did was give a clear and chilling view of that regime's disregard for the right to diversity and tolerance that the Olympics themselves celebrate. For some athletes, the arrest of Sakharov was the last straw.

Anderson, growing angrier as he ran 330 after 330, rasped, "It is too late now, after all this, to think of going. It's too dangerous now. The world situation will still be precarious in July, passions will still be running. In 1956 there was blood in the water-polo pool when the Russians played a country they had just crushed [Hungary]. But that would be the least of the problems in Moscow. The worst would be the horror of violence between the athletes themselves."

Surely the most experienced athlete at the Portland meet in the matter of dashed Olympic hopes was Mike Boit of Kenya, a doctoral candidate in physical education at Oregon. In 1972 Boit was the 800-meter bronze medalist and finished fourth in the 1,500 despite having his training interrupted by anxiety over whether Kenya would boycott in protest of the IOC's admission of a Rhodesian team. In 1976 Boit was a favorite in the 800, but black Africa boycotted the Montreal Games because of the presence of New Zealand, which had rugby ties with South Africa. Now Boit sees the 1980 Olympics slipping toward the same void. No athlete's soul has been wrenched more than Boit's. Yet no athlete has kept affirming sport's value more doggedly. Saturday night he would win the 1,000-yard run in Portland in a meet record 2:09.5. But earlier there was a note of fatalism in his soft, dry voice as he asked, "Do you think there will be an Olympics? I don't want to train and have it taken away again."

And then the Soviets arrived. A contingent of seven athletes, a coach, a manager and an interpreter landed in Portland on Tuesday night. The city had had its share of bartenders pouring Russian vodka down storm drains in protest against the Afghanistan invasion, but one, Bill McCormick, owner of Jake's Famous Crawfish Restaurant, had given such activities a rather comic tone. "I just hope we never go to war with Scotland," he said as he dumped $500 worth of Stolichnaya.

There was one lonely silent protester at the airport to greet the Soviets, and even he couldn't resist giving his objections an impish twist. His hand-lettered sign read: JOE STALIN WOULD HAVE LOVED THE KABUL OLYMPICS.

Throughout their stay, there would be no visible displays of antagonism toward the Soviets, prompting the conclusion that Oregonians were sticking to their old habit of not mixing sports and politics, or at least were unwilling to visit the sins of the Kremlin upon the visitors.

For their part, the Soviet athletes left the talking to their coach, Valentin Tchistiakov, who calmly said they all knew of Carter's position, "but we feel no real misunderstanding between our two countries. That's why we're here." The Soviets watched the TV news with interest, especially when the story of Sakharov's exile broke, but when Carter came on to deliver his State of the Union address, one athlete switched the set off.

The only apprehensive moment came Thursday when the Soviet group visited the small coastal town of Seaside. There they were roughly invited into a bar by some very large, very direct and slightly inebriated loggers. "Settle a bet for us," the burly loggers said. "Are you those Russians?"

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