Forty years on from missing out on the Olympic Games Moscow 1980, Anita DeFrantz took office as the 1st Vice-President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
She was welcomed at her first Executive Board (EB) meeting as 1st Vice-President on Wednesday by IOC President Thomas Bach. After becoming the first ever woman to hold this role during her first term as IOC Vice-President (1997-2001), she now holds the position for the second time.
At this historic juncture in time, she will serve alongside President Bach, a fellow athlete who also fought against the boycott of those Games.
“My life has been about creating opportunities and making sure people unjustly prevented from having opportunities would be able to have them,” said DeFrantz.
After winning an Olympic bronze medal in rowing at the Olympic Games Montreal 1976, DeFrantz was primed to compete again at Moscow 1980, but was frustrated by the US decision to boycott the Games in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Much like President Bach in West Germany, where the debate was on whether to follow the US lead, she was an outspoken advocate against the boycott, trying to make her country’s authorities understand how it would shatter countless Olympic dreams. She ultimately sued for the right to compete but lost that case.
The unsuccessful battle gave the two extra strength to vow that the athletes’ voice should never be ignored again, and has led to both now serving in the two highest offices of the IOC.
“The year 1980 certainly changed my life in many ways. Becoming an IOC Member never crossed my mind, but the path I took led me to that opportunity,” she explained. “For me, to be serving right next to another athlete who was denied the opportunity to compete at those Games means a lot. It means we will never let an athlete be denied that opportunity again. It’s a great responsibility.”
A four-time finalist and silver medallist at the World Rowing Championships in 1978, DeFrantz eventually received a medal in Moscow in 1980 – the Olympic Order awarded by the IOC Session in the Russian capital for her support to the Olympic Movement.
“I sometimes tease people saying I was the only American to receive a medal in Moscow in 1980,” she jokes.
She was elected as an IOC Member in 1986 and joined the EB for the first time in 1992. She chaired the IOC Women and Sport Commission for 10 years (1995 to 2014), and became the first African-American woman to be IOC Vice-President in 1997.DeFrantz looks back at her journey as evidence of progress and into the future with renewed optimism: “The IOC has evolved greatly in these 40 years. I was the fifth woman elected to the IOC, and now we are 39 out of 104 Members. More than ever, the world understands that we have to respect everyone, so this is a great time to be able to serve the Olympic Movement, which has non-discrimination as one of its founding pillars.”