First it was the Soviet boycott, then the dazzling performances of Carl Lewis , Mary Lou Retton, Joan Benoit, Daley Thompson, et al, and finally the unfortunate collision of Zola Budd and Mary Decker, but whether in triumph or controversy, the Olympics clearly provided the lion's share of 1984's sports headlines. There were also many other memorable moments to savor throughout these last 12 months, however, both before and after those star-spangled Summer Games.
There were the Winter Olympics, featuring an unprecedented succession of US skiing triumphs plus the style and showmanship of British ice dancing virtuosos Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. There was an exciting baseball season topped by the exceptional play of the Detroit Tigers. In football, Walter Payton broke Jim Brown's all-time pro career rushing record while Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie dominated the college game. Larry Bird led the Boston Celtics to yet another pro basketball title. Young Wayne Gretzky and his Edmonton Oilers finally ended the hockey monopoly of the New York Islanders. Martina Navratilova continued to dominate women's tennis as perhaps no one else ever has, while John McEnroe reaffirmed his place atop the men's rankings. Away from the arenas, the energetic Peter Ueberroth was a focus of attention all year - first putting on the big show as chairman of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, then replacing Bowie Kuhn as baseball commissioner.
And even all this only scratches the surface of a fabulous array of events and personalities that paraded across the sporting stage over these past 12 months, as the following capsule summaries amply demonstrate. SUMMER OLYMPICS
The deepest and best prepared group of US athletes in history came to Los Angeles primed to do well in any competition, and of course the absence of the Soviet Union, East Germany, and 17 other nations via the boycott made things even easier as the Americans set all-time records with 83 golds and 174 total medals.
Lewis was the biggest individual star, winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes and the long jump and anchoring the victorious 4x100 relay team in an exact replica of Jesse Owens's famed 1936 performance. Edwin Moses extended his incredible victory streak in the 400-meer hurdles to 90 finals. Benoit also made history by winning the inaugural women's Olympic marathon, while her US teammate Valerie Brisco-Hooks became the first runner to win both the women's 200 and 400 , then aded a third gold in the 4x400 relay. Meanwhile Evelyn Ashford, denied her chance at Moscow four years ago because of the US boycott, finally cemented her place as the world's fastest woman by winning the 100 meters.
Thompson and his British teammate Sebastian Coe picked up right where they had left off in 1980, the former becoming only the second man in history to win two decathlon gold medals, the latter achieving an unprecedented double by repeating his Moscow victory in the 1,500. West Germany's Ulrike Meyfarth scored an astounding victory in the women's high jump 12 years after she had won the same event in Munich. And athletes from a variety of less prominent athletic nations had their moments in the sun - including men's marathon winner Carlos Lopes of Portugal and Morocco's Said Aouita and Nawal El Moutawakil, who celebrated jubilantly after winning their country's first two gold medals ever in the 5,000 and the women's 400 hurdles respectively.
All was not triumph and happiness, though, in the track and field competition which traditionally holds center stage at the Games. Perhaps the most eagerly awaited event of all was the women's 3,000 confrontation between Decker, the dominant female middle distance runner of the last few years, and Budd, the phenomenal record-smashing South African teen-ager who had obtained British citizenship just in time to compete at L.A. But a collision between the two early in the race sent Decker sprawling into the infield and obviously unsettled Budd, leaving the door open for Romania's Marcia Puica to cruise to the gold medal - though it should be noted that as the reigning world champion at the distance she had been considered the probable winner beforehand by many experts despite all the Decker-Budd pre-race hype. It was the third consecutive Olympic disappointment for Decker, who missed out in 1976 because of an injury and in 1980 via the boycott. Meanwhile a shaken and disillusioned Budd dropped out of sight for a while, then late in the year declared her intention to return to South Africa - which could spell the end of her international career.
In the gymnastics arena, Retton captured the imagination of the public with her verve and enthusiasm - and scored a US first by winning the women's all-around gold medal in a pressure-packed duel with Romania's Ecaterina Szabo. Julianne McNamara and the rest of the American women also performed well, battling the favored Romanians all the way before finally being edged out for the team gold. The American men, however, with Mitch Gaylord and Peter Vidmar leading the way, scored an historic first by winning the team championship in a close battle with China.
The water sports provided another big medal harvest for the US team, which scored heavily in swimming and diving, and also won the water polo silver. Tracy Caulkins, Mary T. Meagher, Tiffany Cohen, and Rick Carey were all double winners for the dominant American swmming squads, as were Michael Gross for West Germany and Alex Baumann for Canada. In the adjacent diving facility, Greg Louganis was the ultimate combination of skill and grace as he won both men's gold medals.
Americans dominated the men's and women's basketball tournaments and the boxing competition - all as expected - while also scoring heavily in a variety of other sports where previous US performances had not been that strong. They won the men's volleyball gold for the first time, just missed in women's volleyball via a loss to China in the final, and collected first-ever or rare medals in a variety of other sports such as cycling, judo, and Greco-Roman wrestling.
China, with strong showings in gymnastics, volleyball, diving, shooting, and weightlifting, made its first big splash in Olympic competition and went home with 32 medals. Romania, the only Eastern Bloc nation that came despite the boycott, was very strong in the sports in which it specializes (gymnastics, rowing, weightlifting, and women's track and field), collecting 20 gold medals (second only to the US) and 53 overall (third behind the US and West Germany, which had 59). WINTER OLYMPICS
Long before Los Angeles, of course, the world's top competitors on ice and snow descended on the ancient Yugoslav city of Sarajevo for the Winter Games. US skiers had been building up to this moment for several years, and now they broke through - coming out well on top in the Alpine events heretofore dominated by Europeans. Debbie Armstrong and Christin Cooper got it started with a 1-2 finish in the women's giant slalom. Next came Bill Johnson, who put himself on the spot a la Muhammad Ali by boldly predicting victory, then made good by winning the downhill for the first-ever US gold medal in any men's Olympic skiing event. Then on the final day twin brothers Phil and Steve Mahre came in 1 -2 in the men's slalom to complete by far the best-ever US showing (3 golds, 2 silvers) in this traditional glamour sport of the Winter Games.
There was plenty of high drama in the ice arena too, with American Scott Hamilton winning the men's figure skating gold; East Germany's Katarina Witt edging US and world champion Rosalynn Sumners for the women's title; and Torvill and Dean dazzling the worldwide TV audience with a scintillating interpretation of Ravel's ''Bolero'' en route to a flock of perfect scores. It was in this rink too that the Soviet hockey juggernaut routed all opposition while reclaiming the gold medal it had lost four years earlier in that historic upset at Lake Placid.
The most-decorated competitors were Finnish cross-country skier Marja-Liisa Hamalainen (three individual gold medals plus a relay bronze) and East German speed skater Karin Enke (two golds, two silvers). Overall, as usual, the medal race was between East Germany and the USSR. The former won the battle for gold, 9-6, but the Soviets just barely came out on top overall, 25-24. The US wound up tied for fifth place with eight medals - the seven mentioned above plus a silver in pairs figure skating for Kitty and Pete Carruthers. PRO FOOTBALL
In National Football League action, the Los Angeles Raiders began the year by beating Seattle for the American Conference championship, then routing the Washington Redskins 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII. In the 1984 regular season, though , the dominant teams were San Francisco (15-1) and Miami (14-2). Other divisions winners were Denver, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and the Redskins. The Raiders did make the playoffs, but this time Seattle turned the tables, eliminating them in last weekend's AFC wild-card game to end any thoughts of a repeat Super Bowl appearance. The New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams were the NFC wild-card entries, with the Giants advancing to next week's conference semifinals.
Among the year's top individual exploits, Payton of the Bears broke Jim Brown's longstanding career rushing record of 12,312 yards; Eric Dickerson of the Rams erased O.J. Simpson's single-season mark of 2,003 yards; and Miami quarterback Dan Marino had a fabulous season in which he shattered league passing records for completions, yardage, and touchdowns. COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Flutie was the big story all season, setting NCAA records for passing yardage and total yards gained, leading Boston College to a 9-2 record and a Cotton Bowl berth, and winning the Heisman Trophy as the nation's outstanding college player. (And who can ever forget ''The Pass'' that he threw to pull out a 47-45 victory over Miami on the last play of their nationally televised Thanksgiving Weekend shootout?) Running back Keith Byars of Ohio State and quarterbacks Bernie Kosar of Miami and Robbie Bosco of Brigham Young were other outstanding performers.
The battle for team honors was a wild one all season, with five different schools occupying the No. 1 spot in the national polls at one stage or another. Miami, which upset previously top-ranked Nebraska 31-30 in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1 to claim the national championship for the 1983 season, kept it up by knocking off this year's preseason No. 1 team, Auburn, in the 1984 Kickoff Classic. Texas, Nebraska, and Washington all reached top-ranked status only to lose and be voted down, with Brigham Young, the nation's only undefeated major team by season's end, assuming the mantle heading into the post-season bowl games, then completing a 13-0 campaign and solidifying its claim by defeating Michigan 24-17 in the Holiday Bowl last weekend. Supporters of some once-beaten teams felt they had better credentials, however, leaving the question of ''Who's No. 1?'' still open pending the New Year's Day bowl games and the final voting tabulations. BASEBALL
Detroit and Chicago provided the big stories during the regular season. The Tigers roared to a 35-5 start and ran off with the American League East title, while the Cubs prevailed in the National League East for their first championship of any kind since 1945. Detroit kept going in the playoffs, sweeping Kansas City 3-0, but Chicago disappointed its long-suffering fans once again via an upset loss to San Diego. The ensuing World Series proved anticlimactic, with the Tigers routing the outmanned Padres four games to one.
Willie Hernandez, Detroit's relief pitching wizard, dominated the American League's post-season honors by winning both the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards. In the National League, Chicago second baseman Ryne Sandberg was a landslide MVP choice while teammate Rick Sutcliffe was also an easy Cy Young winner.
Also of note: Tony Gwynn of the Padres and Don Mattingly of the New York Yankees were the respective league batting champions; Boston's Tony Armas was the major league home run leader with 43; California's Mike Witt pitched a 1-0 perfect game against Texas on the last day of the regular season; Pete Rose was named playing-manager at Cincinnati in September and continued his quest to break Ty Cobb's record hit total; Louis Aparicio, Don Drysdale, and Harmon Killebrew were elected to the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers, while Pee Wee Reese and Rick Ferrell joined them in Cooperstown via selection by the Veterans Committee. PRO BASKETBALL
With the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers exiting in the first round of the playoffs via an upset loss to the lowly New Jersey Nets, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers went on to win the East and West titles respectively, then the Celtics prevailed 4-3 in the best-of-seven final to win their 15th National Basketball Association championship. Larry Bird, the driving force for the Celtics, won Most Valuable Player honors for both the regular seasson and the playoffs; Adrian Dantley was the scoring leader with a 30.6 average; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Lakers broke Wilt Chamberlain's all-time career scoring record of 31,419 points; and 7 ft. 4 in. center Ralph Sampson of the Houston Rockets averaged 21 points per game and was named Rookie of the Year. COLLEGE BASKETBALL
A powerful Georgetown team led by seven-foot junior center Patrick Ewing defeated Houston 84-75 in the final to win the NCAA championship. Ewing elected to stay in school for his senior year, making the Hoyas strong favorites this season to become the first repeat champions since the end of UCLA's heyday in the mid 1970s. But rival superstar center Akeem Olajuwon, although staying in Houston, left the halls of academe to join the NBA Rockets. The most spectacular individual performer, though, was North Carolina's Michael Jordan, who swept all the major awards as College Player of the Year, went on to lead the US Olympic team to the gold medal, and now, as a member of the Chicago Bulls, is off to a spectacular start as an NBA rookie. HOCKEY
Gretzky won a record fifth consecutive regular season National Hockey League MVP award and captured a fourth straight scoring title (87 goals, 118 assists, 205 points), but the big moment for the great center and his Edmonton Oilers teammates came when they finally ended the four-year reign of the New York Islanders by winning the Stanley Cup. The Oilers dominated the regular season, then silenced the critics who said they couldn't win the big ones by splitting the first two games of the finals on Long Island and winning three straight at home to capture the best-of-seven series, 4-1, and stop the Islanders one short of a record-tying fifth straight championship. Gretzky was the leading scorer in the playoffs, while another Oiler forward, Mark Messier, was named playoff MVP.
Many of these same Oilers and Islanders joined other NHL All-Stars to lead Canada to a comeback victory in the Canada Cup tournament. The Canadians were only fourth in the round-robin portion of the competition, but scored a 3-2 overtime upset over the mighty Soviets in the championship round, then defeated Sweden in the final. TENNIS
Navratilova turned the women's game into her own private province for almost the entire year, winning practically every tournament she entered including the two big ones - Wimbledon for the fifth time and the US Open for the second. These titles combined with the French Open and the Australian Open she had won in late 1983 constituted a ''Grand Slam'' of the four major championships in a row, though not in a calendar year, and late in 1984 Martina failed to get the ''pure,'' slam once again when she suffered one of her rare defeats in the semifinals of the 1984 Australian Open - and that, in an ironic twist, to Helena Sukova, a relatively unknown player from her own native Czechoslovakia. McEnroe , meanwhile, dominated the men's game as he usually has in recent years, winning his third Wimbledon and fourth US Open titles. The last big event of the year was the Davis Cup, where despite a formidable-looking team including McEnroe, his regular doubles partner Peter Fleming, and Jimmy Connors, the United States was upset by Sweden in the finals. GOLF
In a year in which no one player stood out, Ben Crenshaw finally won his first major tournament (the Masters), the colorful Fuzzy Zoeller won the US Open , Spain's Seve Ballesteros won his second British Open, and 44-year-old Lee Trevino won his second PGA championship 10 years after he had won his first one in 1974. On the women's side, Hollis Stacy won the US Open and Patty Sheehan captured the LPGA title. AUTO RACING
Veteran Rick Mears became the fastest Indianapolis 500 winner in history (average speed 163.612 m.p.h.) and forged the biggest victory margin in many years (2 laps, or 5 miles) in winning the race for the second time.