Los Angeles 1984

The Los Angeles Games of 1984 brought some Hollywood hoopla to the Olympic arena, most memorably in a spectacular Opening Ceremony featuring 85 grand pianos, marching bands and a rocket-propelled man flying around the stadium. It also proved the Games could be run at a profit and attract big crowds across the sporting spectrum, best demonstrated when more than 100,000 spectators showed up to watch France beat Brazil 2-0 in the men’s football final.  

Like Moscow, the Los Angeles Olympics suffered a multi-nation boycott. The Soviet Union led the protest, winning the support of most Eastern European nations, including the powerful teams from East Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland. While drastically depleting the elite depth in some events, the boycott did not impact the Games to the same degree of 1980. A record 140 nations participated, with more than 6,700 athletes in action.

Australia at these Games

Australia’s 1984 team was twice the size of its team for the calamitous 1980 Games. The 249-strong team, comprising 174 men and a record 75 women, combined to win 24 medals: four gold, eight silver and 12 bronze. It was an uplifting result for Australia. The 24 medals represented the best medal haul since 1960. The gold medal tally was twice that of its combined total from the past two Games, though notably only half the total of New Zealand’s surprisingly successful team, which won eight gold.

Equestrian star Wayne Roycroft was the flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony, making history after his dad, Bill, had the same honour in 1968. Weightlifter Dean Lukin, who emerged as a national hero during the Games, carried the flag in the Closing Ceremony.

Australia’s four gold medals came in four different sports. In cycling, Australia enjoyed its first two-wheeled success since 1956 when the 4000m team pursuit quartet of Michael Grenda, Kevin Nichols, Michael Turtur and Dean Woods triumphed. Jon Sieben stunned the swimming world by defeating Germany’s superstar, Michael Gross, to win the 200m butterfly crown. Athlete Glynis Nunn scored a courageous and memorable win in the heptathlon, running a personal best in the final event, the 800m, to secure gold. Lastly, weightlifter Lukin lifted national spirits – not to mention a few hundred kilograms in competition – in winning the super-heavyweight division. The South Australian tuna fisherman remains Australia’s only weightlifting gold medallist.

A promising sign for Australia’s future was the spread of medals across the sports. Australia won medals in swimming, athletics, canoe/kayak, cycling, rowing, sailing and shooting. The bronze medal for the women’s coxed four (Karen Brancourt, Susan Chapman, Margot Foster, Robyn Grey-Gardner and Susan Lee) was Australia’s first women’s rowing medal. Another first was Pattie Dench’s bronze in sport pistol shooting. At the time, it was celebrated as Australia’s first shooting medal, but years later Donald Mackintosh would be discovered to have won two medals at the Paris 1900 Olympics. It was Australia’s first pistol medal and first medal for a female shooter. Even better was the fact Dench was 52 years old. She remains Australia’s oldest women’s medallist.

A few athletes who would become household names in Australia made their Olympic debuts in 1984. In basketball, youngster Andrew Gaze made the team, with his Olympian dad, Lindsay as coach. Boxer Jeff Fenech reached the quarter-finals of the flyweight division. He would become a popular professional world champion. Swimmer Lisa Curry (now Curry-Kenny) had a best finish of fourth in the 200m individual medley. Marathon runners Rob de Castella (fifth) and Lisa Martin (seventh), diver Valerie Beddoe (fifth in the 10m platform) and the men’s water polo team (fifth) were among many strong performances.