The logo for the 1984 Friendship Games.


11 January 2022

By Grigori Denikin

Grigori Denikin MCMK, of the Soviet Ministry of Blogging website ‘Hear The Boat Sink’ (HTBSk), has finished his four-year re-education programme and is today’s guest writer.

Thank you, Göran, for allowing me to return to @boatsing for a third time. Today, I bring you a short video clip of rowing at the Friendship Games of 1984, AKA Druzhba-84 (Дружба-84). You know, the eighties was a crazy time: Afghanistan was in the news for all the wrong reasons: there were tit-for-tat Olympic boycotts, doping in sport was a big concern, and HIV caused a devastating pandemic. Thankfully, nothing like that happens in these enlightened times.

For those readers not around forty years ago, it is worth recalling how dominant East Germany (GDR) and the Soviet Union (USSR) were in the sport of rowing.

For comparative purposes, only those rowing events, eight for men and six for women, on the Olympic programme before the introduction of lightweight events in 1996, are considered in the following medal table for the Olympic Cycles for 1980 and 1984:

1977 World Championships – Amsterdam

GDR.      11 Gold + 2 Silver + 1 Bronze

USSR.      1 Gold + 3 Silver + 2 Bronze

1978 World Championships – Karapiro

GDR.      9 Gold + 3 Silver + 0 Bronze

USSR.    2 Gold + 2 Silver + 1 Bronze

1979 World Championships – Bled

GDR.      9 Gold + 3 Silver + 2 Bronze

USSR.    2 Gold + 2 Silver + 1 Bronze

All aboard the Peace (if not PC) and friendship Boat for the 1980 Olympics.

1980 Olympics – Moscow  

GDR. 11 Gold + 1 Silver + 2 Bronze

USSR.      1 Gold + 9 Silver + 0 Bronze

1981 World Championships – Munich

USSR.    7 Gold + 1 Silver + 2 Bronze

GDR.      4 Gold + 5 Silver + 1 Bronze

1982 World Championships – Lucerne

USSR.    5 Gold + 2 Silver + 2 Bronze

GDR.      4 Gold + 6 Silver + 2 Bronze

1983 World Championships – Duisburg

GDR.      7 Gold + 5 Silver + 1 Bronze

USSR.    2 Gold + 5 Silver + 2 Bronze

Sam, the Olympic Eagle, rowed the full 2,000m in 1984.

1984 Olympics – Los Angeles

ROM.    6 Gold + 2 Silver + 0 Bronze

USA.      2 Gold + 5 Silver + 1 Bronze

1985 World Championships – Hazewinkel

GDR.      5 Gold + 2 Silver + 4 Bronze

USSR.    4 Gold + 3 Silver + 0 Bronze

The obvious blip in the above list is the 1984 Olympic Games which neither of the eastern powerhouses attended. With Romania easily topping the medal table, it was hardly a resounding success for the West.

There will always be a case for individual crews who missed out on the 1980 Olympic Regatta because of the boycott. However, if you did not know that there was a boycott, and only had the rowing statistics for 1977 through 1985, you would be hard-pressed to spot that there had been one.

For the 1984 Games, the tables had turned, and many more crews collected soft medals that had been the case four years earlier. This particularly applied to the women’s events. However, there were exceptions as this quote from the July 1984 edition of Rowing demonstrates:

Although the 1984 Olympics will take place amid the second Olympic Boycott, the quest for success, whether a final place or for the exceptional, the winning of a medal will still be a major success for the individuals concerned. For some British crews, namely, the men’s eight and coxed four, the absence of the eastern-bloc big guns will not matter a fig for they have already shown their mettle against both. ROWING gives a preview of what successes we can expect from our men’s and women’s Olympic teams.

Rowing correctly predicted the gold medal for the GBR Men’s Coxed Four: “With or without the boycott, this crew could provide Britain with their first rowing gold medal since 1952 [sic! should be 1948; at the 1952 Games, Britain did not win any medals, finishing fourth in five of the six events entered].”

The 1984 Olympic Regatta took place between 30 July and 5 August during the first week of the Games. The rowing regatta of the Friendship Games took place in Moscow between 24 and 26 August where East Germany did not compete in the Women’s Eights.

1984 Friendship Games – Moscow

USSR.    12 Gold + 0 Silver + 2 Bronze

GDR.        2 Gold + 6 Silver + 2 Bronze

At the 1985 World Rowing Championships held in Hazewinkel, Belgium, normal service was resumed with East Germany winning medals in 11 of the 14 heavyweight events.

In 2018, Soviet Television uploaded a 1984 documentary called Memories of a Sports Summer – International Competition “Friendship-84” to its YouTube channel. It has a brief piece on the rowing section of the games.

In the film’s introduction, we catch a glimpse of an East German rower stretching and their boatman preparing their oars.

At c.2.20 of the video we see the iconic East German rowing kit and in the background the logo of the Friendship Games.
The East German boatman applies the finishing touches to their Macon blades.

The video continues with a look at how Los Angelus prepared for and ran the 1984 Olympics. The Soviet Union had concerns about security and that was one of the reasons given for their boycott. They also cited ‘chauvinistic sentiments’ and ‘anti-Soviet hysteria’ being whipped up in the United States. The video shows the LAPD ‘tooled-up’, menacing-looking Hairy Bikers, and members of the Ku Klux Klan ‘robed and hooded’ and ready to MAGA.

The rowing action begins c.26.45 with the start of the men’s quadruple sculls followed by a clip from the men’s single and ends at c.28.30 with a coxswain toss by the victorious USSR crew.

Memories of a Sports Summer – International competition – “Friendship-84”.

The start of a heat of the men’s quadruple sculls.
Winner of the men’s single sculls, Vasil Yakusha. Born in Kyiv, Ukraine and attributed as a Belarussian sculler, he represented the USSR at both the 1980 and 1988 Olympic Games, winning silver in Moscow and Bronze in Seoul. He died at the age of 62 in November 2020.

One question remains: which rowing event of 1984 was of the highest standard? Was it L.A. ‘84 or Druzhba-84? Or perhaps it was Lucerne Regatta where rowing and not politics takes priority.

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