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The year China saved the Olympics

The 1984 Olympics almost didn’t happen. Four years earlier, the United States did not send a delegation to the games held in Moscow. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, and U.S. president Jimmy Carter would not permit the United States to participate in the Olympics unless the Soviets withdrew their troops. When the Soviets refused, the United States and 61 other countries boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympics. In retaliation, the Soviet Union announced a boycott of the 1984 Olympics, scheduled for Los Angeles. Citing security concerns, the Soviets said 100 other nations had agreed to join in the protest.

The Olympic GamesPeter Ueberroth, head of the Los Angeles Olympics Organizing Committee, looked at the names of the boycotting countries. The first one on the list was China. The People’s Republic of China had never sent a team to an Olympics. Ueberroth felt that if he could persuade China to change its mind, other countries might follow suit. He sent Charles Lee, an American who spoke Mandarin fluently, to ask the Communist nation to go against the very powerful Soviet Union.

When Lee came back with China’s positive response, Ueberroth breathed a huge sigh of relief. “It changed the whole face of the Games,” he said. It shifted the focus from politics to athletics. He firmly believes that China’s decision kept the event alive not only for that year, but for all the years to come. In 1984, only 14 countries stayed away. Ueberroth is convinced that China saved the Olympics.

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Phone call from China transformed ‘84 Games


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