Friday 1 June 2012

1984 Summer Olympics Los Angeles: XXIII Olympiad and VII Paralympics

Initially there were two candidate cities for the 1984 Summer Games. There was the one from Los Angeles but also one from Tehran, Iran. But with growing political tension in Iran leading up to the decision in 1977 the bid from Tehran was withdrawn. Los Angelses was therefore the sole candidate up for selection. The last time that had happened with the exception of the post war Games was in 1932 when the host city was Los Angeles.

 Nations 140 (+60)
Competitors 6829 (+1650)
Sports 21 (NC)
Events 221 (+18)

28 July to 12 August, 1984 hosted by Los Angeles, United States of America

and Paralympics

Nations 54 (+12)
Competitors 2900 (+997)
Sports 17 (+5)
Events 903 (+414)

17 June to 30 June 1984 hosted by New York, USA 
22 July to 1 August 1984 hosted by Stoke Mandeville, United Kingdom

The Games saw a return to the Coliseum the first time an Olympic flame had returned to the same stadium for the opening ceremony.

However, in revenge to the USA led boycott four years previously a 14 nation Eastern Bloc boycott (including Cuba but not Romania or Yugoslavia who had earlier hosted the Winter Games) affected these Games.

The Paralympics were the last to not be held in conjunction with the Olympics. Sports for wheelchair athletes were held at the place where the paralympic movement started in Stoke Mandeville and other wheelchair, amputee, cerebral palsy,  the blind/visually impaired atheltes as well as the new les autres category were held in New York.

New kids on the block

The Olympic family continued to grow with Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, British Virgin Islands, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Grenada, Mauritania, Mauritius, North Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Rwanda, Samoa, Solomon Islands,  Tonga and the United Arab Emirates all joining the party. The Republic of China also competed under the name Chinese Taipei and for the first time since 1952 the People's Republic of China were also present at the same Games.

The Bhutan team as so often since has been centred around their archers, indeed that was the only 6 competitors they sent.

Djibouti managed through Darma Robleh to come 8th in the Marathon. Qatar took part in the football and managed a draw against France, who eventually won gold, but failed to progress beyond the group stage.

Elsewhere in the Paralympics there were debuts for  Bahrain, China, East Germany, Faroe Islands, Jordan, Leichtenstein, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.

The first gold was a first

As this year the men's 50m pistol is one of the gold's decided on the first day. In LA it actually was the first medal to be decided. But in doing so it created a little bit of Olympic history, after a chequered past with the Games it turned out to be the first gold medal for China ever in Olympic history.  His team mate Wang Yifu was able to join in the celebrations from the 3rd step on the podium. Wang Yifu would later go on to take gold in the 10m air pistol in 1992 and 2004, and silver in that event in 1996 and 2000 and silver in the 50m pistol in 1996.

It was was not to be his last involvement with the Olympics he would carry on to take bronze in the 10m air pistol at the 1988 Games in Seoul and when he retired in 1995 he became a coach for the national shooting team.

Bit of course when the flame entered the Birds nest for the lighting of the cauldron in 2008 in Beijing who better to carry the first torch into the stadium that the man who had won his nation's first of their 163 Summer Gold medals.

Young stroke on the start of a great Olympic journey

The man on the right ready to spend 16 years chasing gold
Great Britain had not won a Gold medal in rowing since the 1948 Games. Little did we know that the 22-year-old stroke seat of the coxed four was on the verge of making up for that lack of gold in a big way.

Adrian Ellison was the first man to cross the line in the cox seat, followed by Richard Budgett (who will be chief medical officer for London 2012),  Martin Cross, Andy Holmes and the baby in the boat Steve Redgrave.

Their heat saw them win ahead of USA and then New Zealand. Both those other crew progressed through the repechage into the final where they finished in the same places and the GB and USA in roughly the same times with New Zealand being 4 seconds faster than their heats.

In the next Games Redgrave paired up with Holmes attempting to get double gold in both the coxed and coxless pairs. The only managed a bronze with Patrick Sweeney as cox, but did take that other gold in Seoul. Then in Barcelona and Atlanta it was Matthew Pinsent in the other seat for coxless pairs gold, before the two of them teamed up with Tim Foster and James Cracknell for that fifth Gold in the Coxless Four.

Adrian Ellison was

 Women can run distance

Since women athletes first took to the track and field in the Olympics there had also been concern about their ability to compete in all the same disciplines whether it was distance running or some of the field events especially hammer, pole vault and triple jump.

However in 1984 in the warm smoggy environment that is LA the event that when it first appeared even made some of the men buckle under the effort was introduced for women: the Marathon.

The two Norwegian greats Ingrid Kristiansen and Grete Weitz were among the favourites along with Rosa Mota or Portugal and USA athlete Joan Benoit who had run the world best time in Boston the year before. Mota had run the first women's marathon in 1982 at the European Championships, Kristiansen who had been third in that race had set the season best time in the London Marathon. But Benoit took to the line wearing a reflective silver vest and shorts and a white cap. Thisrunning outfit was designed to give her maximum benefit under the Californian sun and she with the other three was opening a gap. But in the latter stages she opened that lead over Weitz and Mota for the other medals.

What is most remarkable about her performance was that she was on the start line at all. In March of 1984 she injured her knee and underwent arthroscopic surgery on it only 17 days before the US Olympic trials and event which she won by 30 seconds which allowed her 3 months after that to line up for the start of the first women's Olympic marathon.

Open field in the Gym

With the boycott from the Eastern European countries the Gymnastics was wide open, especially the women. It was something that Mary Lou Retton for the hosts took full advantage of. She was the first women from outside Eastern Europe to win gold in the women's all around. The main competition came from the Romanian's especially in the form of Ecaterina Szabo and Simona Păucă and her compatriot Julianna McNamarra. Szabo it was who took at least a share in three of the four apparatus finals, with the other two taking a gold each in those. Retton failed to win on any apparatus taking one silver and two bronze.

Her opposite number in the men's competition was Japan's Koji Gushiken. But the star of the event was China's Li Ning who had taken bronze in the all around.

He was to go on to take gold in three of hte six men's apparatus finals floor, pommel horse and sharing it with Gushiken on the rings. He was also one of the four men to share silver in the vault. It could very nearly have been 5 on that second podium as USA's James Hartung was on 0.025 further back the smallest possible margin.

Li Ning it was who magically ran around the roof of the stadium before lighting the cauldron in the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Romania it was who took the women's team gold over the USA then China. Whereas in the men's it was USA followed by China and Japan.

Women get on your bikes

Cycling finally allowed women's events into their programme. The first, indeed only, event was in the hills of Mission Viejo.

45 women lined up in the hope of making Olympic history but in the end it came down to a group of 5 broke away from the field and stayed away until the final sprint. They were Sandra Schumacher FRG, Unni Larsen NOR, Maria Canins ITA and the Americans Rebecca Twigg and Connie Carpenter.

Carpenter had started her Olympic career as a speed skater in the 1972 in Sapporo, but injury prevented her competing in 1976 so she took to the bike to get fit. That year she won her first US National title.

The five were being pursued by the French cycling legend that is Jeannie Longo who was still taking part in the women's road race in 2008 at 49. She had realised too late that the pace of the peleton was not going to catch the five riders up the road and despite trying to get across finished 1:21 down on the winner. In the sprint it was Carpenter who just got up half a bike length from Twigg who in turn had just edged out Schumacher.

The Big G Boys

Thompson running off last hurdle as Hingsen jumps it
Daley Thompson had won gold in the Decathlon in the 1980 Olympics but without the West Germans and USA who were famous for their multi-event athletes it was a little hollow. However, Thompson held European, Commonwealth and World Titles when he came to defend his crown in Los Angeles. This time his main rival Jürgen Hingsen who had set a new world record of corrected to 8832 earlier in the summer was there against him. Here is how to the two compared Thomspon first:
  • 100m 10.44s (948) 10.91 (826)
  • Long jump 8.01m (1022) 7.80 (980)
  • Shot putt 15.72m (831) 15.87 (840)
  • High Jump 2.03m (882) 2.12 (959)
  • 400m 45.97s (950) 47.68 (914)
  • 110m hurdles 14.34s* (922) 14.29 (928)
  • Discus 46.56m (810) 50.82 (886)
  • Pole vault 5.00m (1052) 4.50 (932)
  • Javelin 65.24m (824) 60.44 (767)
  • 1500m 4:35.00 (556) 4:22.60 (641)
This gave Thompson a total of 8797 to Hingsen's 8633. However, when the looked again at the photo finish of Thompson in the 110m hurdles his score was upped to 8832, before a change in the scoring system led to this being 8847 a year later.

The best scores set by Thompson and Hingsen that summer still stand as the national records for Great Britain and Germany respectively.

Surfs up

Well at least on surfboards.   California is famous for it's surf so just off the coast at Long Beach there was a new discipline then called windglider, but AKA board sailing or windsurfing.

It was a fresh faces Dutchman called Stephan van den Berg who would take that first gold.

He came 4th in the first race, before a second and first place in the next two. Race four saw him in a lowly 11th, before another 4th and second, then a third.

It meant he could disregard his 11th place finish and therefore his six scoring races were all in the top 4. His total score of 44.70 would actually have been better that silver medalist Scott Steele of the USA, whose net score was only 46.0.

In 1984 he won Dutch Sportsman of the Year for his achievement, he was back at the Olympics in 1992 but only managed 7th.

Some hot college stars

Ewing and Jordan on the bench in the '84 Olympics
The basketball tournament was still open only to amateurs which meant that the USA team contained its top collegiate stars. Therefore in 1984 there was St. John's University's  star shooting guard Chris Mullin, Georgetown's centre Patrick Ewing and University of North Carolina's shooting guard Michael Jordan.

These three were all soon snapped up by top professional NBA teams. But when the rule change allowing professionals came in in 1989 the three of them were to form part of that first Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics, therefore being team mates in two Olympic gold medal winning teams, one as college amateurs the others as some of the highest paid athletes in the world. 

See also my full list of posts about past Olympics

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