London Spy

Olympic history: Los Angeles 1984

London Spy

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Carl Lewis celebrates yet another gold by waving a tiny flag

The return of the Olympics to the United States — and to Los Angeles — after 52 years brought record numbers of athletes, nations and revenue. The festival also saw the United States return to the top of the medals table, if only because of the absence of the Soviet Union and a few of its sympathisers.

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Mary Lou Retton springs to glory in the gymnastics arena

Comparisons with the medals haul in Moscow are pointless because of the impact of the western boycott on those Games, but in addition to the Soviets this tit-for-tat protest deprived Los Angeles of East Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Cuba from the top 10 in Montreal.

But Romania turned up and finished second behind the hosts. In particular the Romanians dominated women's gymnastics, with four gold medals for Ecaterina Szabo, although it was the impish American Mary Lou Retton who became the darling of the media, not least because she was the first gymnast from outside eastern Europe to win the women's all-around competition.

China also turned up and, for the first time, took home a few medals — 32 in total. Xu Haifeng won their first gold in the 50m pistol event and the gymnast Li Ning won three of his eight events, also collecting two silvers and a bronze.

New Zealand took advantage of the boycott to win four canoeing gold medals, Italy and France each won seven fencing medals, and in weightlifting and wrestling the competitions were more open than they had been for years.

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American success in track and field was restored to the level of the 1950s and 1960s with Carl Lewis the star as he emulated Jesse Owens by winning the sprint double, the sprint relay and the long jump. Ed Moses, who had taken the Olympic Oath at the opening of the Games, won his second gold medal for the 400m hurdles.

Valerie Brisco-Hooks won gold at 200m and 400m and in the 4x400m relay. Florence Griffith Joyner announced her arrival with a silver in the 200m while her husband Al won the triple jump. Joan Benoit won the first women's marathon. Ulrike Meyfarth won her second gold for West Germany in the high jump 12 years after her first victory in the event, in Munich at the age of 16.

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Daley Thompson vaults his way to decathlon gold

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A barefoot Zola Budd and Mary Decker, moments before their fateful collision that saw Decker fall and Budd win …

With Steve Ovett struggling for fitness, Great Britain found another star of middle-distance running in Steve Cram but in the 1,500m he could only manage silver behind Seb Coe, who had already taken silver at 800m.

Tessa Sanderson and Fatima Whitbread took gold and bronze respectively for Great Britain in the javelin, separated by Finland's Tiina Lillak. But Daley Thompson was the star of the British team with a second gold medal — and a world record — in the decathlon.

The United States basketball team would probably have taken gold even if the Soviets had turned up given that they unveiled some stars of the future in Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and Michael Jordan.

In rowing, Great Britain won the coxless fours with a crew member who would also make his mark in future Games — Steve Redgrave.

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Steve Redgrave (far right) wins his first Olympic gold in the coxed four

Top three performances
1-Carl Lewis (USA)
- Won the same four gold medals as Jesse Owens in 1936 - 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

2-Daley Thompson (GBR) - Retained the decathlon crown after an epic confrontation with Germany's world record holder Juergen Hingsen.

3-Mary Lou Retton (USA) - Became an instant heroine and attracted a flood of endorsements when she won the women's individual all-round gymnastics.

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LA took Olympic commercialism to a new level

Did you know?
On May 8, the USSR announced it was boycotting the Games, and was swiftly joined by 13 nations including the European Eastern Bloc countries.

Due to the boycott, only six of the world's top 100 ranked weightlifters competed.

McDonald's ran a promotion called "When the US Wins, You Win" offering free items when the United States won medals in specific events. The Soviet boycott meant the US won many more medals than expected, causing a a significant financial loss for McDonald's.

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