As a swimmer who represented the United States in competition in the Soviet Union in 1973, and participated with Eastern European athletes in national and international competitions on many other occasions, I am dismayed by simplistic press comment on boycotting the Moscow Olympics.
First of all, the degree of Regimentation and political chauvinism attached to athletics in Eastern Europe varies widely from country to country. As in other areas of domestic and foreign policy the "Soviet bloc" is hardly a bloc.
Secondly, our society generates its own brand of "win-at-any-cost" ideology.And our athletics are certainly not entirely drug free.
It is not a black-and-white affair. The Soviet figure skaters, Romanian gymnasts, East German swimmers, and the rest are not simply automatons. They are individuals and artists, in their own right, trying to achieve a standard of excellence.
We have learned much from the rigor with which the Soviets desire to train their athletes. To quote Swimming World (November, 1976), "the rise of a rival program in Europe has at least helped us become aware of how surprisingly little we know about our own program which has grown up rather haphazardly over the years."
By the same token, the East Europeans have much to learn from our more creative and diverse approaches to training and psychological motivation. Just as in international cultural and artistic exchange, the exchange of information and techniques that accompany the Olympic competition can change people's attitudes regardless of official ideology. The goals and desires of many East European coaches and athletes are often experimental and open to Western models and ideas, though they may not be able to speak out publicly against governmental rhetoric. In this the Olympics perform more than a symbolic service.
I do not oppose President Carter's move to boycott the Olympics, but I still consider such a move a tragedy. The eloquence of athletics, like the eloquence of art, is universal and incontestable. In boycotting Moscow in 1980, we will all not only miss the spectacle and the challenge of trying to reach beyond past limits of human athletic achievement, but we will also be without the embrace of the individual athletes which spontaneously occurs, regardless of political ideology, when the race is over. . . .
As Shakespeare put it, "All are punished. We have lost a brace of kinsmen."