Nightly News   |  February 07, 2014

Athletes’ Scars Still Evident Decades After 1980 Olympic Boycott

Nightly News caught up with four team members who never made it to the Moscow Olympics because geopolitics got in the way.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back here in sochi tonight, the only other time russia hosted the olympics was back in 1980 . it was the summer games but the u.s. team never made it here. they were ready and revved for it, but politics got in the way. president carter kept the team home right at the top of their game. and when we caught up with team members from back then we found the scars of not competing are still evident now.

>> reporter: this is nbc nightly news. good evening, there was an incident in afghanistan today.

>> reporter: in december of 197, 100,000 soviet troops marched into afghanistan. at the same time, the iranians were holding american hostages . at home, the u.s. economy was stalled. in his state-of-the-union address weeks later, president jimmy carter sent a clear message to the russians, withdraw your troops or there will be consequences.

>> neither the american people nor i will support sending an olympic team to moscow .

>> reporter: watching the president's speech that night, the first american women's volley ball team ever to qualify for the olympics , deborah landrith was one of the ten women who had olympic hopes.

>> we just kind of laughed about it. we said that was ridiculous, like we really didn't take it seriously.

>> reporter: then there was don page, the american long distance runner , he was in the room along with the other invited olympic hopefuls the day president carter announced his final decision.

>> i can't say at that moment, what other nations will not go to the summer olympics in discussion. ours will not go.

>> and we're all like, he is serious. the president of the united states just said we're not going to go to moscow ? we're not going to go to the olympics ?

>> so congratulations.

>> reporter: sue walsh was 17 back then and had just clocked the fastest time in the world for the 100-meter back stroke. and to this day, the cancelled olympics are an emotional topic.

>> it was knowing that my parents had bought flights to go to moscow that were not going to be refunded. and now, as a parent what you -- sorry. what you hope -- your hopes for your children are and then knowing that my parents -- wouldn't get to experience that? i think that was the hardest thing.

>> reporter: while the games were taking place in moscow as a consolation prize , the u.s. olympic team was invited to washington. they wore their official levis western wear team outfits that they were supposed to wear to the opening ceremony. and that is when reality sunk in for another u.s. team member, ron gallamore.

>> i broke down into tears.

>> reporter: gallamore grew up the son of the late runningback willy. he was set top the first african-american gymnast to compete in the olympics .

>> it was not until that moment that you know i realized what i had achieved. and the opportunity i would not get.

>> reporter: none of the four athletes, page, landrith, walsh or gallamore ever made it to another olympics , but they long ago decide the not to let that disappointment stop them. don page founded a company that designed running track outfits for high school athletics . deborah , now deborah landrith brown, went on to coach at notre dame and recently celebrated her hundredth victory. sue walsh competes as a swimmer and last year broke the record in her age group . and ron gallamore supports the u.s. olympics as an executive with the gymnastics.

>> i feel great to have the dream i have now, and work with so many athletes. i get to relive my life through them with the happiest ending.

>> reporter: these athletes have all proven their strength and history always proves if you think it is tense between super powers now, there is often a ready example of when it was worse.