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Congress awards 1980 U.S. Olympians Congressional Gold Medals

DENVER -- The 1980 U.S. Olympians who never had a chance to
compete at the Moscow Games can finally say it: They are officially
gold medalists.

But these aren't Olympic medals. Rather, they're Congressional
Gold Medals that were awarded to the 461 Olympic athletes during
the Carter administration but never officially recorded in the
Congressional Record due to technical problems with the production
of the medals.

"This is long overdue recognition for a group of Olympians who
unfairly were denied the opportunity and honor of representing our
country at the 1980 Games," said U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman
Darryl Seibel.

The United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics to protest the
Soviet Union's military operation in Afghanistan. The Congressional
Record from that year shows Congress intended to award the
Congressional Gold Medals to the Olympians to record the sacrifice
they made -- having trained for games in which they would never
compete.

The U.S. Mint produced the medals, but because they were
expensive, financial constraints forced them to be gold-plated
bronze medals instead of solid gold. Because of that difference,
the Olympians were never officially documented as having received
Congressional Gold Medals.

Encouraged by swimmer Ron Neugent, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., and
USOC CEO Jim Scherr contacted the clerk of the House to point out
the omission and get the record corrected.

They pointed out documentation from the 1980 session of Congress
that showed it really was Congress' intent to have the Olympians
recorded as having received the Congressional Gold Medal.

The USOC announced the change Monday, and now, those 461
Olympians are on record as having received the highest civilian
honor that can be bestowed by Congress. One of the first recipients
of a Congressional Gold Medal -- George Washington, who got his on
March 25, 1776.