For most people, the build-up to the 1982 Olympics in Moscow was dominated by political considerations about whether the British team should join the likes of the USA in boycotting the Games. For this particular 12-year-old, though, a far more significant consideration was that, if the British didn’t go, there would be no-one for me to support. I was therefore mightily pleased when the British Olympic Association defied the wishes of the government – and of Margaret Thatcher in particular – and decided to attend the Games. In fact, I am pretty sure that this was the point where I decided that Thatcher was the living embodiment of evil, because she was so intent on mixing sport and politics and I blamed her for the slightly sad sight of our gold medal winners having to see the Olympic flag hoisted in their honour and hear the Olympic hymn played to celebrate their achievement in place of the national anthem.
Despite the absence of many of the nations – 64 boycotted the Games in one form or another – Britain won only five gold medals. For me, the big attraction was the battle between Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett for the middle distance medals. At school, you were either a fan of one or the other, there was no middle ground. I was very firmly in the Coe camp and the disappointment when he finished second in the 800m gold medal to Ovett was huge (even though we had finished school for the summer by the time the race was won). That feeling was replaced by elation when Coe won the 1500m and Ovett could only manage third.
One of the positive consequences of winning so few gold medals – and having so few medal hopes – was that the back story of those who did win was known by all. Alan Wells, who won 100m gold, had had to use starting blocks for the first time at the Games. Duncan Goodhew, the 100m breaststroke champion, who had been bald since falling from a tree as a child. And then there was Daley Thompson, the man who proved to us that you could be good at more than one sport. Every one of them became a kind of hero, even though I was hopeless at any of their sports.