The 25th Anniversary of the 1984 Olympics: Top 10 Moments, Part II

August 2, 2009

Last week marked the 25th Anniversary of the influential 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. To celebrate those historic Games, we present Part II of our Top 10 Moments and Performances from the XXIII Olympiad.

5. Greg Louganis Puts on a Diving Clinic

Similar to many other great U.S. athletes, Greg Louganis was expected to win a gold in 1980, but was deprived of his opportunity due to the U.S. boycott. So, in 1984, Louganis approached the Games on a mission to finally get his long-awaited Olympic gold medal.

He ended up getting two.

In the 3m springboard, Louganis was in a class of his own, as his final score of 754.41 was 92 points greater than the silver medalist.

In the 10m platform event, Louganis posted another dominant score of 710.91, well above his nearest competitor's score of 643.50.

Louganis performed flawlessly throughout the meet, as he earned the top scores in both the prelimary and the final rounds for each event. His platform-springboard double in '84, and once more in '88, puts him at the top of the list among history's greatest divers.

4. Men's and Women's Gymnastics Competition

When the U.S.S.R. announced their boycott of the Games, one of the sports thought to be affected most was gymnastics. Those fears proved to unfounded however, when Olympic organizers convinced the strong Romanian and Chinese teams to participate. As a result, the quality of the gymnastics was not watered-down.

One could tell that the gymnastics were going to be interesting when the Chinese men scored six perfect 10's on the first day of competition, and still found themselves trailing the U.S. team.

Those U.S. men were led by stars Bart Conner, Mitch Gaylord, Peter Vidmar, and Tim Daggett, and would go on to win the team gold medal. They also had a strong showing in the individual events, earning medals in the all-around, pommel horse, parallel bars, vault, and the rings.

In addition, China's Li Ning and Japan's Koji Gushiken were their own one-man wrecking crews, as both earned multiple individual golds with Gushiken taking the individual all-around title. In the team competition, China and Japan earned silver and bronze respectively.

Meanwhile, in the women's competition, the powerful Romanian team, as expected, won the team gold. Romania's Ecaterina Szabo also won three individual golds. The Bela Karolyi-coached U.S. would finish second, with China coming in third.

But the biggest surprise was the performance of American Mary Lou Retton, as she became the first female from outside of Eastern Europe to win the women's individual all-around. To accomplish that feat, Retton had to make a come-from-behind effort with two perfect 10's to overtake Romania's Szabo.

The U.S. men and women would end up with the top medal count, at 16 overall.

But the real impact of the Games was felt years later as scores of future gymnasts were inspired to become the next Mary Lou or Li Ning. As such, China and the U.S. now have become powerful players on the world gymnastics stage.

3. U.S. Men's Boxing Team

When Cuba joined the boycott of the 1984 Games, one immediate beneficiary was the U.S. Men's Boxing team. Without the presence of the powerful Cubans, the Americans would go on to medal in every weight class but one. Included in those medals were 9 golds, 1 silver, and 1 bronze. Overall, it was a dominant performance by a deep U.S. team.

In some cases, however, the Cubans might not have made any difference, as future professional greats Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, and Evander Holyfield all were part of the U.S. team. While Whitaker and Taylor would claim gold, Holyfield would be robbed of the top spot thanks to a poor decision by the referee in the semifinal.

In that match, Holyfield was in the midst of a combination when the referee ordered a break. Although the combination floored his opponent, Holyfield was disqualified for punching on the break. As a result, the Real Deal had to settle for a bronze. Ironically, his opponent, Kevin Barry of New Zealand, never fought in the gold medal match, since he had been TKO'd from the Holyfield combination in the semis.

The U.S. team also featured several other fighters who would go on to professional success, including Virgil Hill (Silver Medal), Mark Breland, and to a lesser extent, Tyrell Biggs, Henry Tillman, Steve McCrory, and local East L.A. product, Paul Gonzales.

Other names of note in the tournament were future professionals Lennox Lewis, Willie DeWit, Francesco Damiani, and Jeff Fenech.

Perhaps the one division most affected by the boycott was the Super Heavyweight division, as the legendary Cuban great Teofilo Stevenson was not given the chance to defend his 1980 gold. Instead, Tyrell Biggs won the gold - the same Biggs who Stevenson had defeated earlier in February of 1984.

2. Mary Decker and Zola Budd Collide on the Track

One of the most anticipated events of the Olympics was the Women's 3000m featuring American long-distance star Mary Decker, and South African newcomer Zola Budd.

Decker was one of the heavy favorites for the gold, as she had been dominant in the Helsinki World Championships two years earlier. For Decker, 1984 was supposed to be her moment in the sun, as she had missed the two previous Olympics due to injury and the 1980 U.S. boycott.

Budd was deemed a worthy threat to Decker's chances for gold because the teenage phenom recently had set an unofficial world record in the 5000m. Moreover, Budd carried her own unique intrigue that helped raise the profile of this potential rivalry.

Budd always ran barefoot, bringing an element of curiosity to her races. She also happened to be a white South African during the time of Apartheid, and thus, she would have been banned from competition had the U.K. not given her a rubber stamp visa to compete under their flag. To the American audience, Budd was a natural villain, simply on a guilty-by-association basis with the Apartheid regime.

When the two finally met head-to-head, the anticipation was at a fever pitch. As the race began to unfold, Budd and Decker found themselves in a pack of runners vying for the race lead. More than halfway through the race, Budd made her move and started to veer in front of Decker. The two runners' legs became tangled, and Decker crumbled to the ground in a heap.

Meanwhile, Budd stumbled slightly and lost some momentum, but was able to regain her balance and continue running.

As Budd continued to run, the crowd booed her severely for tripping Decker. The cascade of noise clearly impacted Budd's performance, as she became rattled and quickly dropped out of medal contention.

With the race continuing on without her, Decker remained on the track infield, crying her eyes out and writhing in pain. Realizing that her hopes for a medal had been dashed, the anguished expression on Decker's face became the lasting image of the XXIII Olympiad.

Typically, runners in a trail position, such as Decker, customarily defer to those in front. In this case, it nevertheless remained debatable whether Budd had established enough of a lead to make that type of move. An officials' final review of race tapes eventually cleared Budd of any wrongdoing.

1. Carl Lewis Dominates With Four Track and Field Gold Medals

Boycott or not, Carl Lewis was going to own the 1984 Olympics. And own it he did.

Lewis set the tone for what would be a Hall of Fame career by winning four 1984 golds in the 100m, the 200m, the long jump, and the 4 X 100m relay. The quartet of medals was a historical achievement, as it equaled the great Jesse Owens' accomplishment from the 1936 Berlin Games.

For the most part, Lewis was in another class during each of his events.

In the 100m, Lewis placed first with a sub-10 time of 9.99 seconds. His nearest competitor, Sam Graddy, clocked a distant .20 seconds behind him.

In the long jump, Lewis' first jump of 8.54m was enough to win the competition by a landslide over his nearest competitor. In fact, that impressive leap prompted Lewis to forgo his final four attempts so that he could rest for his other events. As a result, he heard some boos from fans who had hoped that he would try to break Bob Beamon's long-standing record.

Their disappointment would not last long.

In his next event, Lewis ran a sub-20 200m, finishing the race in an Olympic-record time of 19.80 seconds. It was his third gold of the meet.

But perhaps his most impressive performance was with relay team, as he ran a blazing 8.94 second anchor leg to bring home the gold in a world-record time of 37.83 seconds. More importantly, the victory gave Lewis his fourth gold of the Games, tying him with the immortal Jesse Owens.

Unfortunately for Lewis, there was no signature moment of triumph in these Games because the rest of the world simply was not in his league. And it is precisely because of that dominance that Carl Lewis should be recognized as the top performer at the '84 Games.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor of

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