Despite the stigma that the 1970s was an era of stagnation in the Soviet Union, in 1974 the International Olympic Committee unanimously voted to appoint Moscow as the host city for the 1980 Olympic Games (Olympic Boycott). Beyond athletics, hosting the Olympics was a huge opportunity for the Soviet Union to showcase its prominence and economic prestige on a global scale (Moscow Olympics). In fact, the Soviet Union had historically used public spectacles similar to the Olympics, such as street festivals and circuses, to promote nationalism and well-being amongst its population (Moscow Olympics). As such, the USSR set forth on drastically improving the infrastructure and overall image of Moscow. In addition to the construction of facilities designated for athletics (many of which were converted to housing after the Olympics), the streets, buildings, and decoration of Moscow were revamped considerably (Moscow Olympics).
At this time, relations between the USSR and the United States remained bitter. So bitter, in fact, that as response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the United States (along with 55 other states) decided to boycott the 1980 Moscow games (Moscow Olympics). However, the USSR interpreted the United States’ decision to boycott the 1980 Olympics as a direct reflection of the personal ambitions of President Carter, whom had initiated an ‘anti-Olympic council’ that undermined the traditions of the Olympic Games (Olympic Boycott). Furthermore, it was propagated in the Soviet Union that Carter’s decision to boycott the Olympic Games was a strategy to distract the American public from a variety of domestic problems and hardships (Olympic Boycott).
In actuality, the American response to their government’s decision not to participate in the Moscow games was not as favorable (The Anti-Olympic Farce Fails). President Carter held a ceremony to honor the United States 1980 ‘Olympians’ whom were unable to partake in the Olympic games, following the U.S’s decision to boycott the games altogether. The speech and ‘program of Olympic Glory’ ended up being an embarrassment for the entire Carter Administration, whom compensated the U.S. Olympians with ‘fake gold medals’ (The Anti-Olympic Farce Fails). Over 150 U.S. Olympians chose not to attend Carter’s speech, which was greeted by sheer silence (or a ‘boycott of silence’) from the Olympians that did attend (The Anti-Olympic Farce Fails).
The USSR remained very bitter about the U.S.’s decision to sit out the 1980 Olympic Games, calling the boycott a result of ‘selfish political ends’ (Olympic Solidarity). However, as I have written about periodically in this course, the Soviet Union responded with very hypocritical behavior. In 1984, the Soviet Union decided to boycott the Los Angeles Olympic Games themselves, which seemingly contradicted the criticisms they made just four years prior that boycotting undermined the legitimacy of the Olympic Games and that the Olympics should not be used for political means (Olympic Solidarity). Anger towards the United States for boycotting the Olympics for political purposes was also contradictory when you consider that the Soviet Union, from the beginning, intended to use their position as host of the 1980 Olympic Games as a platform to broadcast their power and superiority to the world.
Sources (in order):
#1 (and featured image): http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1980-2/moscow-olympics/moscow-olympics-images/