The Russian doping scandal that’s haunted the Rio Olympics is troubling on many levels. Certainly no athlete wants to prepare for international competition and not get their moment.
In 1980, U.S. athletes were shut out of the summer Olympics in Moscow. The circumstances were different. President Jimmy Carter issued an ultimatum to Soviet troops – pull out of Afghanistan or he’d boycott the games.
Among the many Americans sidelined by the boycott that year was Carol Bower, a rower for the women’s eight crew team. Bower currently lives in Montgomery County where she coaches women’s rowing at Bryn Mawr College.
“It was incomprehensible to me that we would not have the Olympics,” Bower, 56, said. It was the first time the Americans did not compete in games since the 1940 and 1944 games were cancelled due to World War II.
“Of course the Olympics come every four years,” she said, “What that taught me at the age of 24 was there’s no certainty in this world.” Four years later, Bower went on to row in the women’s eight and won gold in Los Angeles.
“The difference between training for the ’80 team and training for the ’84 team was I was every bit as committed,” she said. “I said that I was going to be every bit as ready, but if the chance should come, not when the chance comes. That’s the way I’ve approached my whole life.”
Bower was one of just two members of the 1980 team that won gold in 1984. She said that some of her teammates chose not to carry on after the boycott while other missed out due to injury.
“Some people were older and their age started to catch up with them, and we had these up and coming stars,” she said. “That’s what makes teams go fast.”
The growth of rowing has been helped by Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Women’s sports like basketball, softball, and rowing have since surged in the United States due to the increases in funding at colleges and universities.
“Where rowing really benefitted from that was athletic departments with Title IX had to equalize the number of female athletes as male,” she said. “The athletic directors were looking for a large women’s team to balance out football.
“That’s why all these big state universities that have big football teams, they all of a sudden have really big rowing teams with scholarships,” Bower added. “So now, when you see these teams race, the coaches have such a population to draw from that they’ve never had before.”
For the entire interview with Olympic gold medalist Carol Bower, press play at the top of the page.