John Moffet, Millennium Hall of Fame
It was a painful decision, one that John Moffet never thought about
before the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
When you’re an Olympic swimmer and world-record holder in the men’s
100-meter breaststroke, you expect your greatest obstacle to be
competitors in the other lanes, not an ill-timed muscle tear in your leg.
A favorite to win the gold medal, Moffet severely injured his leg in the
morning preliminaries, but still qualified first and broke an Olympic
record in 1 minute 2.16 seconds.
Hours later, however, the former Newport Harbor High and Stanford
sensation could barely walk as he prepared for the championship finals.
“I felt incredible when I swam in the prelims on the first day of the
Olympics,” said Moffet, who pulled a muscle coming off the 50-meter wall
at USC, but was able to push himself through to the finish, touching the
wall only three-hundredths of a second off his world-record time.
“The pain doesn’t set in until afterward,” said Moffet, who recorded the
second-fastest time in history, but saw his leg turn black and blue,
along with increased inflammation, during the afternoon as he prepared
for the 4 p.m. start in the finals.
“I was watching it all crashing down in front of me,” he said of his
Olympic gold-medal dream. “I knew it was the end, because my leg just got
worse and worse.”
As his leg swelled and the start of the finals grew closer, Moffet was
staring at large needles filled with numbing agents, rather than focusing
on his start and turns.
“I knew getting (shot with Xylocaine) would probably make (the injury)
worse, but this was the Olympics ... and you’ve got to go for it,” Moffet
said. “I remember laying there (in the trainers’ tent), and I took a big
needle all up and down my right inner thigh. There was injection after
Moffet missed the warmups for the finals, but tried to test his kick in
an adjacent diving pool. At first, he couldn’t kick, “then the Xylocaine
started to take affect and I could go through the motions of kicking,” he
Moffet remembers being introduced in lane four at the Olympic finals by
the public-address announcer in front of about 10,000 fans, a
spine-tingling moment, but also one of distress.
“I didn’t even know if I could swim,” said Moffet, who tried to grin and
bear it, then finished fifth in the medal race as U.S. teammate Steve
Lundquist won the gold and broke Moffet’s world record.
Moffet set the world mark of 1:02.13 at the U.S. Olympic Trials four
weeks earlier in Indianapolis on June 25, 1984, when he pulled a groin
muscle. “You don’t hold anything back at the Olympic Trials,” said
Moffet, who also won the 200-meter breast at the Trials, an event he
dropped at the Olympic Games because of the injury.
After countless hours of training, Moffet was disappointed on his big day
at the ’84 Games, which became an interesting study of Olympic history
and a story that was featured in producer/director Bud Greenspan’s “16
Days of Glory” on television.
Moffet, whose career highlight was breaking the world record in the
100-meter breast, was a five-time individual NCAA champion at Stanford,
which also won NCAA team titles in 1985 and ’86, Moffet’s junior and
Moffet had planned to compete in the 1980 Moscow Games before his junior
year at Newport Harbor, but stayed home that year along with every other
American athlete because of the President Carter-invoked boycott.
A 1982 Harbor graduate, Moffet made the U.S. Olympic swim team in 1980 in
the 200 breast, finishing second at the Olympic Trials and beating
veterans such as former world champion and Olympic gold medalist John
“Even though I was very young and had another Olympic team in me, it was
extremely painful,” Moffet said of missing the Moscow Games.
As the “Star-Spangled Banner” was played at the end of the Olympic
Trials, Moffet remembers his father saying to him, “It doesn’t sound
quite the same anymore, does it?”
Moffet said that summed up his feelings.
Moffet, who won his first national championship during his senior year in
high school in the 200 breast, was the youngest member of the ’80 U.S.
Olympic swim team at age 16.
A member of two NCAA championship relay teams at Stanford and member of
the world-record breaking 400-meter medley relay team (set at the 1985
Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo), Moffet was named the ’85 World
Breaststroker of the Year by Swimming World Magazine.
Moffet earned a swimming scholarship to Stanford, majored in design and
later attended Oxford University in England to study art history for a
Moffet, the latest honoree in the Daily Pilot Sports Hall of Fame, was a
CIF Southern Section 4-A champion in the breaststroke for Newport Harbor
in 1980 and ’81. He was inducted last year into the Stanford Athletic
Hall of Fame.
“I feel very lucky in a lot of ways to be able to accomplish almost every
conceivable goal in my swimming career, except win an Olympic gold
medal,” Moffet said. “It is not a tragic story. I feel very lucky and
A television producer and writer, Moffet lives in West LA with his wife,
Susan, and two children: Graham, 2 1/2, and Emma, six months. Moffet once
produced the show “Hard Copy,” and today produces “Behind the Music” for
Current depth, including heads, is 24.273 inches
All the latest on Orange County from Orange County.
Get our free TimesOC newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Daily Pilot.