Anita DeFrantz, a former competitive rower and bronze medalist in the 1976 Summer Olympics, said her first thoughts when the Soviet Union announced Monday that it would attend the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, were of the athletes, theirs and ours.
In 1980, when the United States boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympics, DeFrantz sued the United States Olympic Committee, claiming that its action would turn the athletes who were unable to compete into the Games' only real losers.
In 1984, as a staff member of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, she criticized the Soviets when they boycotted the Games, claiming that they were hurting no one except their athletes.
So DeFrantz, now one of two U.S. representatives to the International Olympic Committee, rejoiced Monday for all athletes who will be in Seoul, saying that they are already winners, regardless of whether they win medals.
"I'm delighted, absolutely delighted," DeFrantz said from her Amateur Athletic Foundation office in Los Angeles. "It's so important for athletes all over the world who are training to know that they are going to have a chance to compete against the best in the Olympics.
"The 1980 Olympics were certainly successful, and the 1984 Olympics were an unquestionable success, but the 1988 Summer Olympics will provide an even better opportunity for the athletes, who will be able to test their courage and talent against most of the world."
The Soviet Union became the sixth Eastern Bloc country to accept the IOC invitation to attend the Games, after earlier announcements by East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. Czechoslovakia is expected to announce its decision Friday, as is another country considered important to a successful Olympics, China. Officials from both countries have indicated that their athletes will be in Seoul.
As of Monday, 153 of 167 countries in the Olympic movement had accepted the invitation. The deadline is Sunday, six months before the Games are scheduled to begin Sept. 17. There were 140 countries at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, a record that apparently will be broken.
The only country that has indicated it will not attend the Seoul Games is North Korea, but the door was left open for a change of heart. North Korean officials, angry because the Olympics were awarded in 1981 to the South Korean capital, have been negotiating for a co-host role in the Games with IOC and South Korean Olympic Committee officials.
"We can reconsider our stand on the Olympic Games if an agreement on the Olympic co-hosting question is made in the future through the convocation of a North-South joint conference," the North Koreans said in a statement.
But North Korean officials have not responded to an offer that would allow them to stage five events--table tennis, archery, women's volleyball, a 100-kilometer cycling race and a preliminary round of soccer.
IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain has said he would consider extending the deadline beyond Jan. 17 for the North Koreans.
"I had hoped that North Korea would follow suit (with the other Communist countries) and allow their athletes to compete in Seoul," DeFrantz said. "But my experience with them in the past has been that they are not a significant factor."
The same cannot be said for Cuba, which President Fidel Castro has repeatedly said will not attend the Games unless the IOC can reach an agreement with North Korea. Cuban athletes are among the world's best in boxing, baseball and women's volleyball.
"I have a feeling they will go (to the Olympics)," DeFrantz said. "They want to stand by North Korea, but I know they also want to send their athletes to the Games. I think they will recognize that the IOC has negotiated in good faith."
A more pessimistic view was offered by Robert Helmick, USOC president and the other U.S. representative to the IOC. He recently returned from Cuba, where he met with Castro and Cuban Olympic Committee officials.
"Castro said that he was not at all optimistic," Helmick said, speaking by telephone from his law office in Des Moines, Iowa.
Helmick said that North Korean officials hoped they also would be able to persuade other Communist countries, particularly those in the Eastern Bloc and China, to boycott. But he said those countries have sent a message to North Korea by accepting the IOC invitation.
"As long as the IOC is negotiating in good faith, it's North Korea's problem," Helmick said.
Helmick and other USOC officials say there are several reasons for the Soviets' return to the Summer Olympics, not the least of which is Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost .
Since the Soviet boycott in 1984, the relationship between sports officials in the United States and the Soviet Union has been better than ever. The USOC and the Soviet Olympic Committee signed an agreement in 1985 to combine their efforts to assure that there would be no further boycotts and established a series of exchanges between athletes from both countries.
In 1986, the Soviets and Turner Broadcasting System officials in Atlanta organized the Goodwill Games in Moscow, which featured athletes from the United States and the Soviet Union. The second Goodwill Games are scheduled for 1990 in Seattle.
IOC officials say there also was pressure on the Soviets to compete in Seoul from other Eastern Bloc countries, particularly East Germany. The East Germans, the officials said, did not favor the 1984 boycott and feared that missing another Summer Olympics would damage their extensive athletic programs.
Even in the Soviet Union, there have been complaints that the 1984 boycott contributed to the recent lack of success by Soviet sports teams on an international level. The reasoning is that it is difficult to motivate young athletes if they believe that they may not be able to test themselves at the most visible competition, the Olympics.
DeFrantz said there are more universal reasons that contributed to the decisions of the Soviets and their allies to attend the Games.
"There is no question that the Olympics are the most important worldwide movement," she said. "Whatever the political differences might be between countries, this is the leveling off experience that makes us all human.
"People are realizing that it is counterproductive and truly shameful to keep their athletes away from the Olympics. They have learned that it's important to be part of it."