“Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games” by Jerry Caracciloi and Tom Caracciloi
Non-fiction, Summer Olympics, History, Politics, Boycott
May 1, 2008
272 pages (Hardcover)
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)
A dark chapter in the history of the Summer Olympic Games is remembered in this outstanding book that is one part politics, two parts stories from the athletes who did not get the chance to complete against fellow athletes from other countries and a dash of opinion about the United States-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics held in Moscow.
For those who may not know or remember this, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979 during the height of the Cold War. President Jimmy Carter responded with various actions such as cutting off trade with the USSR and other diplomatic measures. In addition, he also requested that the United States Olympic Committee not send athletes to compete in the upcoming Summer Olympics to be held in Moscow. They did just that and 1980 became the only year in which the United States failed to send athletes to the Summer Olympics.
The book interviews 30 athletes of various sports who made the Olympic teams in their sports and tells their stories. The athletes came from various places and backgrounds and the stories reflect the variation. Some are still bitter 30 years after the boycott that they were denied the chance to compete over circumstances they could not control. Some backed the boycott fully and understood why it was done. Some addressed it with indifference. The stories also included their lives after their experiences with the Olympic team. .
What I really liked about these stories is that many different sports were represented and not all the athletes were the stars in their games. There was a gymnast who was 13 years old who was not considered ready for international competition yet won a spot on the team. There were two basketball players who were not upset with the decision because for them, the Games were merely a stepping stone on the way to the NBA. (Note: one of these players, Isaiah Thomas, went on to become one of the best point guards in NBA history). There was a wrestler who was very bitter and outspoken about the boycott. These all made for great reading.
A chronological timeline of the decision to boycott the Games was included, starting with the invasion and ending with the opening ceremonies in which the United States and 57 other nations were absent. Some of the nations who decided to participate still protested the invasion in other ways, such as carrying the Olympic flag in the opening ceremony instead of their national flag. This helped the reader not only understand why the boycott was demanded by the President, it also illustrated the actions taken by the Olympic Committee and other organizations leading up to the historic vote for the boycott.
Overall, the book is an outstanding work of research, interviews, writing and recollection. Anyone who enjoys the Olympic Games, reading about political maneuvering to get an action done, or good yarns from years past will enjoy this book.
Did I skim?
I did not fully read and digest the lists included, such as the complete results of the Games after they took place. I did fully read each athlete’s story and the political chapters.
Did I learn something new?
Yes, many things. There are too many to list here since most of the athletes were not known outside of the sport in which they competed. Also, the chapter on the build-up and politics of the Soviet Union’s invasion into Afghanistan was revealing. Finally, a little known fact was revealed that was never told during that year. A ceremony was held at the White House about a month before the Games to honor the US Olympic athletes. A medal was given to each one of them, but many felt it was just a token to try to make them feel better. Later on, it was revealed that this was the Congressional Medal that is the highest honor given to non-military citizens. Why that was not told to the athletes or the press was never fully explained.
Pace of the book:
Excellent. With the format of beginning each chapter on the political actions taking place, then the stories of two athletes before the next chapter, it was the perfect mix of stories and research.
There were a lot. I loved everything about this book. The stories, research, history, politics – everything was researched and written well.
I did not believe any part of this book was less than excellent. The closest that could be considered a negative is that in some of the writings on the politics, the authors did let their opinions be known at times. Some readers may not appreciate that, but I felt it helped strengthen the writing.
Do I recommend?
YES! Read this book if you like sports, politics or history.
Book Format Read: