Chris Dorst didn’t send an invitation to President Jimmy Carter at the occasion of his wedding two decades ago. Maybe he should have.
Dorst is the first to admit that Carter helped instigate his marriage to Marybeth Linzmeier. If it wasn’t for Carter’s 1980 U.S.-led boycott of the Olympics in Moscow, Dorst says his life likely would have taken an entirely different turn.
“If we’d gone in 1980, then I most likely would not have trained for 1984,” the former goalie for the U.S. water polo team said. He eventually played in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. “And it was during training that I snagged a wife out of the whole thing.”
It was in 1983 when Dorst started dating Stanford distance swimmer Linzmeier. She, too, had been denied a chance to compete in 1980 as a world-class high school star in Southern California. Dorst made it to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She missed a Team USA berth by .03 seconds and never got a second chance.
Next month, Russia hosts the winter Olympics in Sochi. Team USA, which boycotted over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan 34 years ago, will be there this time.
The thought of the Games of 2014 being held in Russia with the United States in the middle of its own war in Afghanistan isn’t lost on athletes who found themselves derailed in 1980.
“It’s ironic, isn’t it,” Dorst said, “that the boycott was designed to keep the Soviets out of Afghanistan, and now here we are.”
Linzmeier-Dorst, who qualified in 1980 in the 200 and 1,500-freestyle, declined to be interviewed for this story. Also declining through a spokesperson was Carter, although it has become clear over the years even to those most directly impacted that he regrets the boycott.
Fencer Greg Massialas, an alternate in the 1976 Games in Montreal, was at his physical peak in 1980, but never got a chance at a medal. He made it back to the Olympics in 1984 and 1988, both times without medaling. He has spent is adult life as a fencing coach, referee and official. He got a chance at closure, although he had to wait until the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta for it to happen.
“I was sitting at one of the big (fencing) matches when there was this commotion behind me. I turned around and there was Jimmy Carter and Roslyn and his niece and her boyfriend, who were about 18 or 19. They didn’t know much about the sport, so I started to explain what was happening.
“After a while, the boyfriend asked me when I first competed in the Olympics. I told him 1984, but that my first Olympic team was 1980 and that there was a boycott. He was like 3 then, and he asked why it had happened, and I couldn’t have asked for a better setup. Carter never said anything, but he tapped me on the shoulder as if to acknowledge that it had been a mistake.”
Massialas said he learned about the boycott from a customs agent at New York’s JFK Airport as he returned to the United States from Europe, where he had been doing Olympic training.
“I’d won the Olympic trials in Houston, so the decision was very devastating in a lot of ways,” Massialas said. “Especially for those of us who were mature athletes. At that time there was no money at all to do these sports. The commitment on our side was extremely strong, and then we had the rug pulled out from under us because it was politically convenient.
“It’s particularly true for the smaller sports. Tennis has Wimbledon, but for a sport like fencing, the Olympics was it.”
A continent away from Massialas’ chat with the customs agent, Kimberly Carlisle was swimming the backstroke for Stanford with dreams of breaking into the medal count for her country against a bevy of world-class East German swimmers, athletes later to have mostly been found to have been operating on performance-enhancing drugs.
“It was a deeply disappointing time, and it took me a long time before I could come to terms with it,” Carlisle said of the boycott.
And not just for herself, even though she would never get another chance on an Olympic stage.
“There were two women in particular whose names would be household words today if we’d been allowed to compete,” she said. “Linda Jezek would have won both backstrokes and Tracy Caulkins might have been in the league of Michael Phelps, winning everything.”
Carlisle ultimately did make it to Moscow, a decade too late.
“I was there in June of 1990 and I tried to go for a swim in the pool,” she said. “I thought it would give me some closure. It was unbelievably difficult to try to get permission, which I never got. I eventually just hired a cab and went to the pool with my swim bag. The pool was empty, crumbling, locked, with no water in it and weeds coming out through the cracks. All that investment in the sport was dead.
“To see the pool shuttered, that closed the door for me, I was hoping to swim and salve the wound. But with the damn doors padlocked and chained shut, it was time to move on. There was a lot of grief in that trip.”
The Dorst family includes five athletes — daughters Lindsay, Becca and Emily all played or are playing Pac-12 water polo. Chris Dorst, who said wanting to make sure boycotts never happened again led to his spending a decade on the board of directors of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said Marybeth is the best athlete of the bunch.
“She made the Olympic team, but she doesn’t consider herself an Olympian,” he said. “Those are some high standards. But if she goes in 1984 and wins a bunch of medals, maybe she becomes a media darling and marries some Hollywood type. I got lucky.”
Carlisle, who works with the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee in an effort to bring the Olympics to Northern California, said being excluded from the 1980 Games was in at least one way positive.
“The gift is that I am able to talk to people about my experience and stress that the Olympics always has to be have world participation. That’s what makes it so powerful and compelling. It’s something we need to keep sacred and not desecrate with boycotts.”