Los Angeles 1984

Games History

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.

The US dominated the events, winning a record 83 gold medals - three more than the Soviet Union won at their own boycott-marred Games four years earlier. Romania and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) were second and third respectively.

The surprise was China, the Asian giant emerging as an Olympic power by placing fourth on the medal table with 15 gold, eight silver and nine bronze medals. In fact, China won its first Olympic gold in the first Olympic competition of the Los Angeles Games – a victory to Xu Haifeng in the free pistol, 50 metres. China’s star, however, was gymnast Li Ning. He won three gold, two silver and a bronze. Another star was Lang Ping, known as the Iron Hammer, who led China to the women’s volleyball gold. Another hero of their volleyball win was Jiang Ying, who became an Australian citizen and a leading coach in the country.

The most celebrated athlete of 1984 was American Carl Lewis, who repeated Jesse Owens’ 1936 feat of winning four gold medals in the 100, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump. His teammate Ed Moses won the 400m hurdles, keeping his 100-plus winning streak intact. Moses also won the 1976 gold in his event. Great Britain’s Sebastian Coe became the first man to successfully defend his 1500m crown. The Olympic program continued to expand, with 21 new events added, 12 of them for women. Most notable was the first women’s marathon, won by American Jean Benoit. Until this Olympics, the longest women’s race ever run at the Games was 1500m. Another curious debut was synchronised swimming, the often-maligned physically and technically demanding aquatics discipline. Basketball legend Michael Jordan won a gold medal with the US team.