The Moscow Olympics are remembered for a fair few things, some good, some bad. There was that catchy song, Moscow, by a band named Ghengis Khan. There was Misha the Bear, one of the Games’ most loved mascots. There was great athletics action, led by Ethiopia’s Miruts ‘Yifter the Shifter’ Yifter, winner of the 5000m and 10,000m, and British gold medallists Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, Allan Wells and Daley Thompson. And there was the boycott of the Games, led by the United States, by more than 45 nations in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Australia did compete, though many athletes chose – or were pressured – not to attend.
In the end, 80 nations – a third less than in Munich eight years earlier – competed. Not surprisingly because of the absences, the Soviet Union dominated the medals. The USSR won 87 gold medals, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) 47, and Bulgaria in third place won eight gold – less than a tenth of the total of victories of the Soviet team. In fact, excluding the East Germans, the Host Nation won more gold medals than the combined totals of the other 78 teams competing.
In gymnastics, Romania’s Nadia Comaneci returned to the Games, but could not repeat her stunning 1976 form. She did, however, win two gold and two silver medals. The best performed gymnast was the Soviet Union’s Aleksandr Dityatin, who won three gold, four silver and a bronze, becoming the first person to win eight medals at a Games. He also became the first man to score a perfect 10.00 in Olympic competition. His teammate, Victor Adrianov, retired after Moscow. He won 15 medals at his three Olympic appearances, more than any other man at the time.
Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson won his third consecutive heavyweight gold medal, joining Hungary’s Laszlo Papp as the only boxers in history with three gold medals. Many believe Stevenson to be the greatest boxer to never turn professional.
Two events close to Australian hearts achieved milestones in Moscow. Women’s hockey debuted at the Games, with Zimbabwe the shock winner as many of the world’s best teams, including Australia, did not compete. In the 1500m freestyle, Russian Vladimir Salnikov became the first swimmer to break the 15-minute barrier for the distance, recording a world record of 14 minutes, 58.27 seconds.