Coe: What the politically charged 1980 Olympics can teach athletes today

The 1980s was perhaps the most politically charged decade in the history of sport, all of which began on Christmas Eve 1979 with the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. You can imagine a thrusting, ambitious spin doctor sitting in the resplendent inner sanctum of the Kremlin and advising his political bosses that this was a good day to bury bad news. In less salubrious surroundings, I remember sitting at home in Sheffield watching it unfold on television with scant recognition about just how far the ripples of this particular pebble would extend. If the Soviet troops weren’t heading back to base by the end of February, theUS would boycott the Olympic Games of 1980. Slideshow: The most successful Team GB Olympians of all time (ReadSport) By early March, Carter had confirmed the boycott and deemed it an article of faith that the other western democracies would follow suit. In retrospect it was no great surprise that the recently elected British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher supported the boycott, thus reaffirming the “special relationship” between the two nations that had been watered down under previousadministrations. As a freshly minted political science graduate, the manoeuvring of government either side of the Atlantic began to twitch my antennae. As a middle-distance runner, holder of three world records and pre-selected for the Olympic Games, it threw a toxic ingredient into the mix for me. Everything you do in preparation - your training programme, the choice of competitions, even where you live is predicated in reaching a peak during a few days in July or early August. The Damocles threat of a boycott - and with it the chilling prospect that a decades worth of intense ambition to compete on the world’s biggest stage, the Olympic Games, may not be realised - was unthinkable. Even now, looking back from the heights of an Olympic silver and gold medal in Moscow, I still break out in a cold sweat about not making it to the Russian capital. So spare a thought for this year’s crop of Olympians and Paralympians who only a handful of weeks ago had their dreams ripped asunder when Tokyo 2020 was inevitably postponed in theface of this global pandemic. When I stepped out of the front door to trudge thestreets of my home city of Sheffield with a constant niggling doubt that it may all come to nothing, I didn’t have the additional fear that my daily grind ran the risk of serious,possiblyfatal infection and by implication leaving family and loved ones also in the line of fire. If age is on their side, they avoid injury and they have smart thoughtful coaches who will help them regroup mentally and physically. My advice to them while their careers are temporally paused, is to use the unexpected time when not maintaining peak fitness to nourish their soul by going online and unearthing the personal odysseys of athletes past who have had to overcome unimaginable adversity to keep their dreams intact.