COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Twenty-seven years after Congress authorized President Jimmy Carter to present a congressional medal to the 461 athletes of the 1980 United States Olympic Team, the medal has now been confirmed as being the highest civilian honor that can be bestowed by Congress. Until this recent designation, the medals awarded to the 1980 Olympic Team have been denied full recognition due to a technicality in production.
Among the members of the United States Women's Basketball Team that year were then-Lady Vol Cindy Noble and former Lady Vols Holly Warlick and Jill Rankin. Tennessee Head Coach Pat Summitt was an assistant coach for the 1980 squad.
Earlier this year, members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team began working with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), the United States Olympians Alumni Association and Representative Todd Tiahrt (Kansas) to properly designate the medal as a Congressional Gold Medal. The Congressional Record from 1980 clearly indicated that the intent of Congress was to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the OIympians, partly to record the historical sacrifice the Olympians made to preserve freedom as well as to record the patriotic role of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team in the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
Representative Norman Shumway stated on June 30, 1980, "The 1980 Summer Olympics will best be remembered, not only by who competed, but rather by who did not. The Congressional Gold Medal will serve to remind us and future generations as well, that we as a nation will never forsake our principles of freedom - not even for the cherished Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals."
In September, Representative Tiahrt and USOC Chief Executive Officer Jim Scherr sent letters to Lorraine Miller, Clerk of the House of Representatives, requesting the medal authorized by the 96th Congress and presented to the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic Team by President Carter to be officially listed as a Congressional Gold Medal. The Clerk's office has since designated the medal as a Congressional Gold Medal and added the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic Team to the official list of Congressional Gold Medal recipients.
In March 1980, President Carter announced that the United States would boycott the Olympic Games in Moscow as a protest to the Soviet Union's military aggression in Afghanistan. Congress overwhelmingly supported the boycott by the Carter administration and, following the decision to boycott the Olympic Games, enacted Public Law 96-306 authorizing President Carter to present a gold-plated medal to the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic Team on behalf of Congress.
The U.S. Mint produced 650 medals to be awarded to the members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, but because of the considerable cost of producing so many medals, financial constraints dictated that they be gold-plated rather than solid gold. As a result, because of this technical difference, the official listing of Gold Medal recipients maintained by the Clerk of the House of Representatives did not carry the ones awarded to the 1980 Team even though Congress intended that they be fully-recognized Congressional Gold Medals. Now with the recent designation, the medals awarded to the 1980 Team hold the same standing as the ones that have been awarded during the last 231 years to such luminaries as George Washington, who was so honored on March 25, 1776.