Dec. 7, 1983: A high-level Soviet Olympic and government delegation ended a week's visit to Los Angeles with its leader, Gramov, saying he had a "positive" attitude toward the 1984 Games and, "We do not see any reasons" why the Soviet team would stay away from them.
Many of those attending Gramov's press conference thought it was clear that the U.S.S.R. athletes were on their way. But those who listened carefully to Gramov that day weren't so sure. There were, he said, "a number of problems which have to be resolved yet." He wouldn't name them. And, speaking after Ueberroth had warmly introduced him as a "friend" and "a man for whom I have great respect," Gramov had had nothing kind to say about Ueberroth. He'd made no mention of the LAOOC's hospitality, the seven-and 11-pound lobsters at West Hollywood's posh Palm restaurant and all the rest.
Feb. 6, 1984: The senior Soviet member on the IOC, Constantin Andrianov, surprised a general session of the IOC in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia by paying tribute to the L.A. committee for doing "an excellent job" and by saying that while the U.S.S.R. had had "some criticism in the past," it now was eager "to congratulate the organizing committee." "I was amazed," Ueberroth says. "He went on and on, reading from what obviously had been carefully prepared in advance." Some IOC members said they viewed the Andrianov statement as a commitment that the Soviet Union would participate in the Games.
But three days later Soviet leader Yuri Andropov died, and the atmosphere soon soured. Last week Ueberroth said, "Then slowly but surely the communiqués between us become a little sketchy and not quite as good.... Then Chernenko is appointed. Now Chernenko comes from where? The closest person [to Brezhnev]. He watched Brezhnev feel the pain of 1980. The communications start to just dry up and [on April 9] there's the announcement that comes out, the very negative announcement calling for emergency meetings, saying the Olympic Charter is being violated."
April 24: Ueberroth and Gramov are back together at a press conference in Lausanne, Switzerland after discussions at IOC headquarters there. Gramov calls the meeting "a great step forward toward removing the undesirable overlaps that emerged recently around the Los Angeles Games." Samaranch declares, "We may say that the black clouds that accumulated in the Olympic sky have vanished or are very soon going to vanish."
But that seems to have been mere public posturing by Samaranch. Last week, two days after the Soviet pullout, Samaranch, dressed in a dark suit and looking as if he had just come from a funeral, told SI's Anita Verschoth in Lausanne, "The pullout wasn't a surprise for me. The only surprise for me was that the announcement came very early. I wasn't very sure [that the Soviets would participate]. I had that feeling since 1980, since before I got the presidency." The boycott was obviously a bitter pill for Samaranch, whose rise in the IOC ranks was helped by his ties to Moscow, where he once served as Spanish ambassador. Samaranch knew that many Western members of the Olympic hierarchy had counted on him to keep the U.S.S.R. in line.
And listen, listen very carefully to other portions of that April 24 press conference. Gramov still says there are "problems" to be resolved before Soviet attendance at the Games is assured, and he continues to refuse for the most part to identify them precisely. Again Ueberroth has referred to Gramov as a "friend." Again there's nothing kind from Gramov. And there's a new note sounded by Gramov: "We have been receiving now at our Olympic committee a number of declarations and letters from various nationalist and terrorist groups and organizations [in California] with threats toward us." Gramov suggests that more extensive security measures by the U.S. government will be necessary.
At Gramov's press conference on Monday, he claimed that on April 27 an unnamed Soviet official was called to the State Department in Washington and told by an unidentified U.S. official that the Reagan Administration "flatly rejected" any charges that the U.S. was violating the Olympic Charter. That, said Gramov, was "the final straw" as far as the Soviet Union was concerned.
At a briefing later last Monday the State Department confirmed that counselor Ed Derwinski and other U.S. representatives met with Victor Isakov and Viktor Cherkashin of the Soviet Embassy on April 27. But Derwinski insisted, "The purpose of the meeting was not as they say. It was just the oppposite. It was to tell them we were ready to work with them and ready to cooperate."
Eleven days after that April 27 talk, the Soviets announced their boycott, mostly on the grounds that their athletes would be endangered by "anti-Soviet hysteria" in L.A. But was that really the issue? The reasons that the U.S.S.R. gave were almost certainly excuses rather than real objections.