The 'Trials to Nowhere'

EUGENE — Some athletes remember it as the "Trials to Nowhere."

It was 1980, the last time the U.S. Olympic trials were held in Eugene. But those who placed atop their events never got to compete as Olympians.

President Carter boycotted the Moscow Olympics that year because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. The U.S. Olympic Committee approved the move before the event, so the athletes knew their fate.

The 1980 would-be Olympians were honored Friday when the trials returned to Eugene after a 28-year absence. Among those who competed that year at Hayward Field were marathoner Alberto Salazar and runner Mary Decker.

Steve Scott qualified for the Olympics with a victory in the men's 1,500 meters and was featured back then on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

"The most difficult thing to overcome was that we knew ahead of time that we weren't going to the Olympics — so the public and the media didn't perceive us as the Olympic team," he said.

In fact, the local filming of the movie "Personal Best" with Mariel Hemingway got more attention the trials, Scott mused.

Had he gone to Moscow, Scott could have run against Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett in the 1,500 finals. But he was one of the lucky ones in the class of 1980 — he was able to make two more U.S. Olympic teams.

"It was hard not to follow through with something you've been training for four years," said Scoot, who was with the 1980s team that walked the track at Hayward Field on Friday night during opening ceremonies.

Robin Campbell, who placed third in the women's 800 meters, said she remembers holding out hope through the trials that somehow the team would still be able to compete in Moscow.

But she says she's not bitter.

"I'm happy that I'm here. I'm happy I had the opportunity," she said. "I'm happy I'm an American."

In December, the 461 athletes who would have been Olympians were honored with the Congressional Gold Medals that were supposed to be given to them during the Carter administration.

The Congressional Record from that year shows Congress intended to award the Olympians to record the sacrifice they made — having trained for games in which they would never compete.

The U.S. Mint produced the medals, but because they were expensive, financial constraints forced them to be gold-plated bronze medals instead of solid gold. Because of that difference, the Olympians were never officially documented as having received Congressional Gold Medals.

That was corrected late last year.

"It was symbolic," said James Butler, who won the 200 meters in 1980. "But it wasn't something you earned — like an Olympic medal."

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