Blaze for the Gold, and the Olympic Boycott of 1980

By Chasity Contant and Amanda Hendrickson, Contributing Writers

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Graphic Courtesy of Daniel Falkenheim Blaze during a game in 1975 (Left picture) by Lonny Cohen | The Montclarion Carol Blazejowski at Commencement. (Right Picture) Photo Courtesy of Mike Peters.
Blaze during a game in 1975 (Left picture)  
Photo Courtesy of Lonny Cohen | The Montclarion
Carol Blazejowski at Commencement (Right Picture)
Photo Courtesy of Mike Peters

With a record-setting career in women’s basketball, making history at Madison Square Garden, and being the lead scorer at world championship games, it was inevitable for Carol Blazejowski to seek the golden opportunity for an Olympic career.

Blazejowski, nicknamed “The Blaze,” was well on her way for the gold. Her Olympic path began with her famous performance on March 6, 1977 at Madison Square Garden. In a game between Queens College and Montclair State, Blaze scored a total of 52 points for Montclair State, the highest for both men’s and women’s college basketball (before the 3 point line). That record remains unbroken to this very day. That same year, Blaze received several awards and honors, including two collegiate Women’s Player of the Year, and being “the first-ever recipient of the Wade Trophy as women’s basketball player of the year,” according to the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.

Blaze began her professional career by playing for U.S. teams in national competitions. Blaze led the nation’s teams to gold in the World University Games, the World Championships and the R. William Jones Cup in 1979. Blaze also scored silver with the U.S. team at the 1979 Pan American Games. In 1980, Blaze became an Olympian. The Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame states, “When tryouts were held for the 1980 team Carol did not only make the squad, but was named captain as well.”

Photo Courtesy of Patrick Hoesly on Flickr
Photo Courtesy of Patrick Hoesly on Flickr

But there were problems up ahead for the young Olympian captain. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter gave Russia an ultimatum: remove Soviet troops from Afghanistan or the United States would not participate in the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were held in Moscow. Unfortunately, much to Blazejowski’s dismay, the Olympics were boycotted. Sixty-five countries chose not to participate in the Olympics in 1980, including the United States, because of the Soviet Union’s decision to invade Afghanistan and begin the Soviet-Afghan War.

Instead of the Olympic Games, many of the teams decided to participate in in-home games to show their skill, to feel as though their training wasn’t wasted. Even the media showed their support with America’s boycott. The 1980 Summer Olympic Games was going to be covered by NBC, but they canceled the coverage in support of the United States’ boycott of the games.

Not everyone felt the same about America’s boycott. Blazejowski was on the 1980 Olympic basketball team that would have, in all likelihood, brought home the gold for USA. She, and many other athletes, were heavily disappointed with the outcome of the ultimatum. The American men’s and women’s basketball teams were considered champions.

“The American women posted an impressive 6-1 record to win the tournament and established themselves as an Olympic favorite along with the Soviets,” USAB.com said.

Therefore, the boycott was felt by all, fans and players alike. The event that some had trained their entire lives for was now over.

“My reaction was more reality than apple pie and red, white and blue. For me, it was about the years I’d put in. I did feel that we unfortunately were innocent victims,” Blazejowski said.

After the boycott, Blazejowski decided not to continue on with her Olympic career, instead continuing with professional basketball.

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