The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics saw Canadian athletes rise to a standard never achieved before at a Summer Games, but the results will always be overshadowed due to a boycott by 14 Eastern Bloc nations.
The 44 medals won in L.A. is a total Canada might never win again at a Summer Games. Some of the medals may be tarnished by the boycott. Others, like the gold won by swimmers Alex Baumann and Victor Davis, and diver Sylvie Bernier still shine bright.
"Deep inside of me I know that in my sport it didn't change anything," said Bernier, whose victory in the 3-metre springboard made her the first women from Quebec to win an Olympic gold medal. "Look at my results two years before the Games. The East Germans and Russians were good but not necessarily on the podium.
"In some sports, some people have to admit it was different. But in my event, I know the way I dove I would have probably had the exact same result."
Baumann set world records in 200 and 400-metre individual medleys. Davis, who died in November 1989 after being struck by a car, also set a world record in the 200 breaststroke and took silver in the 100 breast.
"The L.A. Games was the pinnacle sporting moment/event for me," Baumann, now the chief executive officer for High Performance Sport New Zealand, said in an email. "I will always remember... standing on the podium and hearing the Canadian anthem. It was surreal.
"There were many boycotts in the past. If you win a medal, no one will remember that there was a boycott 20 years down the track. For me the goal was to win, with the secondary goal to break the world record. I wanted to prove that I was indeed the best in the world."
The 436-member Canadian team in Los Angeles (273 men, 163 women) won 10 gold, 18 silver and 16 bronze. Canada won medals in 14 different sports and had Olympic champions in six.
Also winning gold was shooter Linda Thom; swimmer Anne Ottenbrite; Lori Fong in rhythmic gymnastics; Larry Cain and the team of Alwyn Morris and Hugh Fisher in canoeing; and the men's eight rowing crew.
Among those winning silver was Carolyn Waldo in synchronized swimming; Willie de Wit and Shawn O'Sullivan in boxing; and Curt Harnett and Steve Bauer in cycling. On the track, a young sprinter named Ben Johnson was third in the 100 metres and helped the 4x100-metre relay team to bronze.
Baumann said the strong performance injected confidence into Canadian sport.
"These Games gave us the confidence to stand up against anyone in the world, with the aspiration to be the best in the world," he said. "This is critical for the psyche of a nation."
Bruce Kidd, a professor at the faculty of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto and a former Olympian, said the results shouldn't be dismissed because of the circumstances.
"They were great athletes," said Kidd, an author who competed at the 1964 Games. "We wouldn't have won 40 medals if the whole world was there. But we celebrate North American hockey players that only play in the NHL. I think we should take the asterisk off."
The L.A. Games also came at a critical time in Olympic history. They were held just four years after the U.S., Canada and other western nations boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
"After the boycott in 1980 there were a lot of athletes I think that were discouraged," said Brit Townsend, who ran the 1,500 metres in L.A. and is now a track coach at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. "Some quit the sport.
"You don't want an eight-year span between Olympic Games. For us to go, be strong, and be role models for the rest of the world, it was really important."
By 1984 the entire Olympic movement was teetering. Many nations didn't want to host a Games, especially after construction costs for the 1976 Montreal Olympics and 1980 in Moscow left staggering debts. Los Angeles was awarded the Games after Tehran, the only other city interested, decided not to bid.
Peter Ueberroth, who headed the L.A. organizing committee, was impressed by some of the sponsorship strategies used in Montreal. For Los Angeles, the idea of corporate sponsorships was introduced with 43 companies licensed to sell official Olympic products. This allowed the Games to turn a $225 million profit.
On the political front, the Soviet Union, Cuba and East Germany were among the nations that boycotted Los Angeles in retaliation for the West refusing to compete at Moscow. The Games still drew 140 nations, including Romania. China also competed.
"I think that these Games were critical," Baumann said. "The L.A. Games balanced the business/commercial component with putting on a great, well run Games for athletes. This was critical for the long-term success of the Olympics."
Among the highlights of the 1984 Games:
Mary Lou Retton received perfect scores in her first two events and became the first American woman to win an individual gold medal in gymnastics.
American Carl Lewis won four gold medals, equalling the 1936 performance of Jesse Owens.
Among sports making their Olympic debut was women's marathon, synchronized swimming, windsurfing and rhythmic gymnastics.
Sebastian Coe, who became the head of the organizing committee for this summer's London Olympics, became the first man to win consecutive gold medals in the 1,500 metres.
- Xu Haifeng won the 50-metre pistol event for the first medal to be won by an athlete from China.
Among the dubious events:
Eleven athletes failed drug tests
McDonald's ran a promotion where customers scratched a ticket and found the name of an Olympic event. If the U.S. won that event, the person won a free meal. With the U.S. winning more medals than expected due to the boycott, the promotion cost much more than originally thought.
Zola Budd, an 18-year-old given British citizenship to avoid the apartheid-base ban on South Africa, collided with American Mary Decker-Slaney in the final of the 3,000 metres. Decker-Slaney fell and Budd finished well back in the race.
- In weightlifting, 94 of the world's top 100-ranked lifters were absent because of the boycott, along with 29 of the 30 medallists from the world championships.