Friendship Video games 1984: When Nice Britain took half within the ‘Iron Curtain Olympics’

Opening ceremony of the Friendship Games
The opening ceremony of the Friendship Video games was held on the Lenin (now Luzhniki) Stadium, simply days after the Los Angeles Olympics

Jayne Mitchell turned the important thing and pushed open the door.

“There was a small single mattress, a bizarre factor within the rest room that appeared like a mixture of bathe and bathtub, and this dodgy wallpaper, grease patches throughout it, that seemed about 100 years outdated,” she remembers.

Three weeks earlier than, on 28 July 1984, a person on a jet pack had flown into the Los Angeles Coliseum to open town’s Olympics. However in a divided period, Mitchell was on the opposite facet.

As an alternative of Los Angeles, she was in Prague. As an alternative of the athletes village, she was in a low-rise resort. And as an alternative of the Olympics, she was on the Friendship Video games.

They have been an alternate Video games for a unique world view. After the US and a clutch of its allies had stayed away from the Moscow Olympics in 1980, the Soviet Union and its allies retaliated with their very own boycott 4 years later.

Pravda, the Soviet state newspaper, mentioned the Friendship Video games, organised by the USSR and its satellite tv for pc states, would present “that Socialist society offers extra beneficial amenities for the human beings’ all-round bodily and non secular growth”.

Sergey Bubka, the fresh-faced 20-year-old Soviet pole vault world holder, went additional.

”It’s a pity that the Olympic flame in Los Angeles was darkened by the spirit of profit-making,” he was quoted as saying by the Soviet Union’s official press company.

“The ambiance of anti-Soviet and anti-socialist hysteria within the USA prevented athletes from most Socialist nations from taking part within the Olympic Video games.

“We hope that ‘friendship’ competitions will present to the world at massive anew the energy of athletes from socialist nations and their loyalty to the Olympic beliefs.”

Mitchell, then aged 21 and competing underneath her maiden identify of Andrews, had little information of what she and the four-strong British workforce of feminine athletes have been entering into.

And, extra pressingly, as she stood surveying her sparse resort room, she had no baggage.

Short presentational grey line

The Friendship Video games had its personal opening ceremony. One with fewer jet packs and extra political messages.

In Moscow’s Lenin Stadium, about 100,000 spectators, together with future chief Mikhail Gorbachev within the VIP seats, watched troupes of dancers undergo exactly choreographed routines.

Banners have been unfurled exhorting the ‘well being of the individuals’ and the place of sport within the Communist authorities’s newest five-year plan.

Lastly, there was a track. Specifically composed for the occasion, it included the lyrics: “To a sunny peace, sure, sure, sure, to a nuclear battle, no, no, no.”

As Mitchell and her team-mates had gathered collectively on the tarmac at Heathrow, they’d thought they have been heading to a daily continental meet.

Joyce Hepher was an extended jumper. She had gained the space to qualify for Los Angeles – however solely two days after the British workforce had already been submitted to the Worldwide Olympic Committee. There was no approach of including her. So, as an alternative she was boarding a aircraft to Prague, the place the ladies’s athletics occasions for the Friendship Video games could be held.

In all, 9 nations served as hosts. The desk tennis was in North Korea, the boxing in Cuba.

“I solely heard about it per week earlier than we’re about to journey,” Hepher, then competing underneath her maiden identify of Oladapo, tells BBC Sport.

“I had no concept concerning the magnitude of all of it. I initially thought it was a Grand Prix sort assembly and it was solely once we arrived on the resort and noticed all the different athletes. Actually anybody who was anybody within the Japanese Bloc was there.”

Marita Koch
East German star Marita Koch, who nonetheless holds the 400m world report, competing within the Friendship Video games

Within the foyer have been East Germany’s Marlies Gohr and the Soviet Union’s Lyudmila Kondratyeva, the world and Olympic 100m champions respectively. East Germany’s Marita Koch, whose 1985 400m world report nonetheless stands as we speak, was there. As was Czech Jarmila Kratochvilova, whose 800m mark from 1983 additionally stays unsurpassed.

Hepher seemed down her personal startlist within the lengthy leap. Nineteen-year-old world champion Heike Drechsler was joined by Russian Galina Chistyakova, one other whose world report from the period nonetheless endures.

“The qualifying spherical was fairly intense,” Hepher says. “I bear in mind waking up actually early to heat up and once we received to the stadium, that they had all this high-tech tools on the runway that measured your velocity coming to the board.

“I actually hadn’t come throughout that in another competitors.”

The ultimate was received by Drechsler with a leap of seven.15m. The highest 4 on the Friendship Video games all produced jumps larger than the one which had received gold in Los Angeles earlier in the summertime.

“It was positively a stronger competitors than within the Olympics,” Hepher provides. “The primary three received nicely over seven metres; it was a really aggressive and really sturdy area.”

Mitchell’s 100m occasion was equally stacked. Gohr took gold in a quicker time than American Evelyn Ashford had run for the Olympic title. Alice Brown, who received silver behind Ashford in Los Angeles, completed down in fifth, as the only US observe competitor.

However instances and distances from the period got here with questions. Within the years since, the Iron Curtain has rolled again to disclose the work of state-sponsored doping regimes, even when lots of its outcomes nonetheless stand.

“These rumours have been at all times there,” remembers Hepher. “Issues about Japanese Bloc athletes and their programmes and ‘nutritional vitamins’. However till anybody was caught, no-one might actually say whether or not they have been drug takers or not.”

Mitchell provides: “It was onerous instances for them as nicely. It wasn’t actually their fault ;they have been plucked from society as gifted athletes and supplied a greater life for them and their households. It will be onerous to not observe the regime in these nations.”

The performances, in-stadium know-how and out-of-competition prescription drugs might need been world-leading. However life away from the observe, on the road, was not.

After her baggage did not observe her from Heathrow to Prague, Mitchell went to seek out provides.

“I went to a sequence of native outlets and in every there was a glass counter with one in every of all the things on show – a toothbrush, toiletries, some garments,” she says. “You’d level to what you’ll need.

“The underpants got here in a pack of seven, with completely different days of the week written on them.

“There was a number of poverty. We got some canned drinks sooner or later and children have been clamouring round us as a result of they wished this will of Coke. It was actually particular to them to have one thing that, to us, was so peculiar.”

Sergey Bubka
Bubka, who competed for Ukraine after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, took silver within the pole vault in Moscow

Finally Mitchell’s baggage – full with the cans of beans and moveable range that she’d packed – arrived simply in time for her return to London.

Once they landed, there was no reception or ovation. Actually, there was little recognition of the Friendship Video games in any respect.

There had been no protection on tv. There have been no studies within the newspapers. With no British athletes collaborating within the males’s athletics occasions, Mitchell believes she and her team-mates have been on the flawed facet of the gender, in addition to political, divide.

“In that period, female and male athletes in the identical workforce have been handled in another way,” she says.

“We have been simply not thought-about as necessary. We’d get bills by going as much as a desk and getting an envelope. Among the different athletes went to a greater desk to get their bills. There was a ‘jobs for the boys’ tradition.”

Jayne Mitchell
Mitchell has moved to Perth, Australia for the reason that finish of her athletics profession

However what they received again from the Friendship Video games could not be counted in kilos.

Neither Mitchell nor Hepher ever went to an Olympics. For them, a forgotten nook of observe historical past stays a excessive level.

“It is not recognised, even throughout the athletics group, as being what it was,” says Hepher.

“It hasn’t received the identical kind of kudos because the Olympics. However trying again now, even when on the time I did not realise the magnitude, I really feel honoured to be a part of it.

“I look again on it as my Olympics.”

Around the BBC - SoundsAround the BBC footer - Sounds

Supply by [author_name]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *