Thu | Oct 18, 2018

1980 Moscow's missing children

Published:Sunday | August 11, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Jacqueline Pusey - File
Merlene Ottey - File
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Gordon Williams, Sunday Gleaner Writer

MOSCOW, Russia:

It was a different time then. Moscow, a different place. More than three decades after Jamaica last sent a team to a global meet in the Russian capital, the city's physical character remains - large buildings and wide streets stand out - but the mood, as the IAAF World Championships in Athletics (WCA) ramps up, has already shown a dramatic shift when matched with recollections of the 1980 Olympic Games.

Not only does Jamaica seem destined to improve its medal haul from the silver and two bronze collected 33 years ago, but WCA 2013 promises other changes too.

By the time Rosie Allwood carried Jamaica's flag through the closing ceremony of the 1980 Olympics, indelible impressions had been formed. When Jamaica arrived in Moscow the United States (US) had already boycotted the Games, protesting the then Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan. The massive communist block dissolved in 1991, leaving Russia a separate nation, and, in 2013, despite frosty relations between the superpowers, the Americans are here to compete.

But, Jamaican observers claimed, the US wasn't the only glaring absence from the Russian capital in 1980.

"I thought Moscow was a beautiful place," recalled Jacqueline Pusey. " ... The other thing I noticed was I didn't see any children. No children at all."

Pusey's observation wasn't product of a naive 20-year-old.

"We didn't see kids," said Leleith Hodges then 28, "except those competing at the Games."

There was no official statement explaining "missing" young people from Moscow's streets. But rumours became so rife athletes reportedly brought the matter to a Jamaican official at the Games. They claimed they were told the Soviets didn't want their children "exposed to the ways of the Western world" by mingling with visitors.

"I think they sent (the children) away," offered Hodges, who, along with Allwood, Pusey and Merlene Ottey formed Jamaica's 4x100 metres relay team which finished sixth in Moscow.

Today Moscow is the world's fifth largest city, a bustling metropolis, reportedly home to the second highest number of billionaires. There are children everywhere and enough smiles and nods for curious visitors. It wasn't always so in 1980.

"They just stared at us," recalled Allwood, who had also competed in Moscow the year before.

Moscow's citizens weren't expecting any favours from Jamaicans either.

Sightseeing

"We couldn't give gifts to people who took care of us," said Pusey. "They wouldn't take it. No. Sometimes we had to overly insist. Sometimes we were not too sure they had kept gifts (they took)."

Although, according to Allwood, a couple Jamaican athletes "ran away from camp one day (to go) sightseeing," security was tight in 1980.

"Checkpoints," recalled Pusey. "Lots of checks."

Otherwise, Allwood confirmed, "the Russians wanted to make sure they did a good job" hosting the Olympics. Apart from "minor problems," the Games were "good," she said.

In competition 1980, however, in stark difference from today, Jamaica didn't expect much in Moscow. But there were pleasant surprises. David Weller won silver in cycling, the first time a Jamaican had medalled outside athletics at a global meet. Ottey, just 20, became the first Jamaican woman to win an Olympic medal, finishing third in the 200 metres. Donald Quarrie, the 1976 Olympic 200 champion, also earned bronze in his pet event.

But Jamaicans couldn't purchase - literally - success off the track in 1980.

"When we went shopping they had the most beautiful crystal stuff, like vases and plates," explained Pusey, "and we could not buy them. We did try to buy them, but they said they were there for display."

Except for tough competition, Jamaica's athletes expect nothing handed to them at WCA 2013. Moscow's mindset has changed in 30-plus years, but so too has Jamaica's. Those who competed there in 1980 are wishing for better returns.

"We just have to hope and pray we do well," said Allwood.