Thesis While he was well-informed on the details and was innovative in coming up with new ideas, Carter displayed poor judgment at the strategic level. He was unable to see large, conceptual issues or understand how perceptions in foreign lands might be different from those found in the United States. Opinions of the day that he was weak and indecisive were—to be equally direct—wrong. Carter showed resolution and determination throughout the boycott effort. It was his inability to provide a sustained strategic vision in his foreign policy that produced divisions within his administration and resulted in policies that worked against one another. It was the Olympic boycott, an American action, rather than the invasion of Afghanistan that killed détente and restarted the Cold War.
Source Material ● Records of the Carter White House ● Papers of Lord Killanin ● International Olympic Committee Files ● British Olympic Association Files ● U.S. Olympic Committee Files ● Papers of Robert J. Kane ● Papers of Avery Brundage ● Memoirs ● Interviews and Oral histories ● Published Government Documents ● Newspaper/Magazine articles
Introduction The U.S. Olympic Hockey Team scored one of the greatest upsets in sports history when it defeated the Soviets and won the gold medal. Jimmy Carter watched with pride, Lord Killanin, distaste. Ironically, the “miracle on ice” helped Killanin in his battle with Carter over the proposed boycott of the 1980 Olympics. The boycott failed, but did manage to kill détente and restart the Cold War.
Chapter 1: Lord Killanin and the Politics of the Olympics A biography of the President of the International Olympic Committee in 1980, the third Baron Killanin of Galway, and a short description of the politics of the Olympic movement.
Chapter 2: Los Angeles vs. Moscow A behind the scenes look at the battles these two cities fought against one another for the right to host the Summer Olympics, which resulted in Moscow getting the Games of the XXII Olympiad. At one point, the Nixon White House bribed members of the International Olympic Committee.
Chapter 3: Jimmy Carter and U.S.-Soviet Relations A short biography of Jimmy Carter and an analysis of his inconsistent handling of foreign relations towards the Soviet Union. Lord Killanin watched and worried as détente died a slow death.
Chapter 4: The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan A short military history of how the Soviets initially seized control of Afghanistan, using Russian and Afghani sources. The Russians had problems that proved to be fatal to their cause almost from day one.
Chapter 5: The American Response Personally angered over the invasion, Jimmy Carter initiated a number of efforts to punish the Soviets. After hesitating, Carter decided to include a boycott of the Olympics among these actions. He gave the job of overseeing the boycott to White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler.
Chapter 6: Easy Victories When Carter announced that the U.S. would boycott it was immensely popular with the American people. The administration scored a number of easy victories. The Soviets stunned at the boycott warned that Carter was risking the future of détente. With few resources at hand Lord Killanin developed a simple strategy of stalling for time.
Chapter 7: Painful Losses In February the Carter administration began suffering a number of self-inflicted defeats. They ranged from a bad meeting Cutler had with Lord Killanin, to Muhammad Ali’s disastrous service as a special ambassador. The IOC voted to keep the Olympics in Moscow, and public support for the boycott started to decline as the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York and the success of the U.S. hockey team reminded Americans about the power and magic of the Olympics.
Chapter 8: The White House Games As a result of the President’s tendency to inject himself into the details, the White House staff spent a month attempting to establish a counter-Olympics because no one had the authority to challenge the idea. Trying to organize these alternate games—what normally takes cities years to do—cost the administration valuable time as it became clear the British were going to lead a defection from the boycott movement.
Chapter 9: Coca-Cola, NBC, and the Defeat of the Iron Lady Commercial issues soon complicated the boycott and absorbed an enormous amount of attention from the Carter administration. In London, the British Olympic Association voted to go to Moscow, dealing a huge blow to the boycott.
Chapter 10: The Vote in Colorado Desperate to prevent the U.S. Olympic Committee from voting to go to Moscow, the Carter administration used every carrot and stick it had available, including the bribing the Committee.
Chapter 11: Carter versus Killanin Many other national Olympic committees had been waiting to see what would happen in the United States. The next six weeks until the deadline for accepting an invitation to Moscow was a civil war within the Olympic movement between the subordinates of Carter and Killanin. The two men met briefly during this time in a futile effort to change the other’s mind.
Chapter 12: Moscow: The Olympics are the Olympics The Olympics are the Olympics and the games Moscow went on without notice of the absent Americans. The boycott failed, but détente though was dead. The boycott was an insult the Soviets would not, could not forget. The American Olympic athletes of 1980 received consolation prizes and then were largely forgotten.
Chapter 13: Los Angeles: The Olympics are the Olympics An aftermath chapter, which shows that the Soviets boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics for the same reason that the Americans did: they thought their presence was a critical requirement for the gathering to be a success. Such was not the case. The Olympics are the Olympics and the games in Los Angeles went on without notice of the absent Soviets.