Friday Video from SmartPak: The Olympiad That (Almost) Wasn’t


Moskow 80 (Part #2)

Posted by Bakar Gachechiladze on Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Happy Friday, EN-ers. To celebrate the first weekend of this Olympic year, we’re going to go back in time to another Games — the 1980 Moscow edition.

You might not have heard much about the Moscow Olympics and the small role eventing played within them, and there’s ample reason for that. It would be the most diminutive Olympics in terms of competitor numbers since 1956, with just 80 nations taking part after the U.S. led a boycott against the Soviet-Afghan war. Sixty-six nations in total would abstain entirely from the Olympics, while several would field competitors under the Olympic flag, rather than their own. Amid whisperings of doping scandals, Soviet athletes would go on to take a staggering 127 gold medals of the 204 on offer.

Equestrian sport at the Boycott Games, as it became known, was among the hardest-hit, with just 11 nations competing in these disciplines. Just six would participate in the eventing competition: Italy, who had won the 1964 team gold, would take the silver, while three-time European Champions the USSR would win gold. Mexico rounded out the podium, though with only 11 competitors completing from 28 starters, the medal ceremony must have looked a rather sedate affair.

So where did the leading nations and competitors go, if not to Moscow? To France’s Fontainebleau, of course, which would host the alternate Olympics. It would be a fruitful one for the U.S. eventers — Jimmy Wofford and Carawich would take silver, while Torrance Watkins and the crowd-favourite pinto Poltroon would nab bronze, making the popular rider the first woman to medal in eventing at a Games, official or otherwise. West Germany’s Joel Pon would win the gold medal with Ensorceleuse II. By 1984, when the Games moved to Los Angeles, things would mostly have returned to normal — though the Soviet nations would opt to return the boycott in kind.

Dive into today’s video, which shows how the ‘real’ Games in Moscow played out — plenty of timber, deep footing, a long, testing track, and a truly sinister soundtrack. Happy weekend!