Both Games opened and closed with flag-waving, syncopated ceremonies honoring international athletes who competed for medals of gold, silver and bronze.
And both of this summer's Games -- the Olympics in Los Angeles and the Eastern Bloc's alternative Friendship '84 Games -- left a residue of numbers that translate hot-blooded, athletic performances into static measurements of distance and time.
But ask U.S. coaches, athletes and amateur sports officials to compare the Games, using the numbers to determine what the Olympic medal count might have been without the Soviet-led boycott, and you will be told that such a comparison is "impossible," "irrelevant" and "unfair."
"It's like saying, is Babe Ruth a better hitter than Hank Aaron, or who was a better running back, Jimmy Brown or Gale Sayers?" said Brooks Johnson, the U.S. Olympic track and field coach, who becomes more angry as he speaks. "It's fine if you don't have anything better to do. But you're probably better off going fishing or counting waves at the ocean."
Soviet sports officials are not as hesitant to compare. Marat Gramov, the head of the Soviet National Sports Committee, boasted this week at the finish of the Friendship '84 Games that athletes from the more than 40 countries that participated "achieved greater results than those in Los Angeles." The two-week competition held in Moscow, other sites in Eastern Europe and in Cuba, said Gramov, broke more Olympic and world records than were broken in Los Angeles. More than 60 performances at those Games were measurably superior to medal-winning performances in Los Angeles.
The Soviet Union's government-controlled newspaper, Pravda, asserted that the Friendship Games proved that communism "provides more favorable facilities for the human being's all-round physical and spiritual development."
In response to that claim, one U.S. Olympic Committee official this week snorted, "Most people probably think the Friendship Games were something put on by the Kennedy family in Hyannisport."
It is understandable that America's coaches and athletes, basking in the glow of unprecedented Olympic success, after winning 174 medals, including a record 83 golds, would be hostile to any Eastern Bloc attempt to tarnish the achievement. But they insist their objections are not merely emotional. Comparing the results of sporting events held in different places, times, temperatures and facilities, they say, is specious.
In the cycling competition, for example, the Soviets and East Germans set six world records. But they competed on a wooden indoor track; Olympic athletes raced outdoors on a cement track. In 29 events at Moscow, 40 swimmers from the Soviet Union and East Germany recorded times better than those earning gold or silver medals at the Olympics. But again, swimmers at the Friendship Games were competing in a "fast" indoor pool, while swimmers in Los Angeles competed in the wind and sun of an outdoor pool.
Some U.S. officials charge that there may be a more insidious reason to discount any comparisons.
"The biggest difference between the Olympics and the Friendship Games is the doping control," Johnson said. "We don't have anything about that in the statistics. And without that, all other statistics are irrelevant."
The U.S. and International Olympic committees say they have no knowledge of what tests, if any, were conducted at the Friendship Games to determine the use of steroids or stimulants by athletes. A spokesman for the Soviet Embassy in Washington, Oleg Benyukh, said Friendship athletes were subjected to "absolutely all the same type of testing as in L.A."
But U.S. officials are suspicious, particularly since there were no reports of athletes being disqualified during the Friendship Games. At least six tested positive at the Olympics.
No one denies that participation by the 14 countries that boycotted the Olympics would have affected results in Los Angeles, particularly in sports such as swimming, weightlifting, boxing and field events, in which the Soviet Union, Cuba and the Eastern Bloc nations are traditionally strong.
"I can't truthfully say we would have won nine gold medals if everyone had been there," said Roosevelt Sanders, assistant U.S. Olympic boxing coach. "I'm sure there's a question in a lot of peoples' minds who has the best boxing team."
Paul Gonzales, one of America's gold medal winning boxers, said he is disappointed he did not get a chance to fight the Cubans and Soviets. But that decision was not his to control. "I beat everybody who got in the ring with me," he said. "That's the best I could do."
Randy Reese, one of the U.S. Olympic swimming coaches, concedes that Eastern Bloc competitors, particularly the East German women, "would have gotten their share" of medals. In the women's 100-meter breaststroke, for example, the top three finishers in Moscow recorded better times than Olympic gold medalist Petra Van Staveran of Holland.
"Comparing times is ridiculous," said Pete Cava, an official with The Athletics Congress. "It's like people who pick football games in newspapers. If the Bears beat Buffalo by 31 points and Buffalo beats the Patriots by 30, that means the Bears should beat the Patriots by 60 points. That kind of logic is very faulty."
Dr. Jerry May, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Nevada, who works with U.S. Olympic athletes, calls any direct comparisons irrelevant.
"There are so many things that have an impact on an athlete -- the elevation, altitude, weather, competition and the way that athlete is feeling on that particular day -- that to make a comparison is foolhardy," he said. Because some athletes perform best when competition is greatest, the Olympic times may not represent what they would have achieved if the Eastern Bloc had been present, he said. Other athletes, released from the pressure of facing a longtime nemesis, might have benefited from the boycott.
"Each athlete responds differently," May said.
Because the United States and many of its allies did not participate in the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, medals won at those Games have been viewed by some as tarnished. But athletes who won medals this summer in Los Angeles are still blinded by their lights.
"It's just unfortunate all the best can't be here, but I don't think it devalues what the gold medals mean," said Edwin Moses, gold medalist in the 400-meter hurdles.
"I don't know what would have happened," said Mary T. Meagher, America's gold medal swimmer in the butterfly. "I was favored by so much in 1980. I think a lot of us who stuck around feel we deserved them."
Alexander Gomelsky, the coach of the Soviet Union's men's basketball team that won the Friendship title by beating Czechoslovakia, 105-70, said his team could beat the U.S. squad that won the Olympic gold.
Bobby Knight, coach of the U.S. team, did not need to be reached for a comment. "We'll beat Russia anywhere in the world," Knight said at the Olympics.
The debate will likely continue for four years, but not in sports such as diving, yachting and equestrian, which were not affected by the boycott. In boardsailing, for instance, Scott Steele of Annapolis upset the best competitors in the world, most from western Europe, to win a silver medal. Steele said he was not worried that 20 years from now people might associate his performance with an incomplete Olympic field and put an asterisk beside his medal.
"I'm not afraid of that at all," he said. "The top guys were there, no question about it. The guy from the Soviet Union who won the Friendship Games would have been lucky to break the top 10 in Los Angeles."
In the wrestling competition, some top competitors were absent. Ron Finley, coach of the U.S. Greco-Roman team, admits that he has mixed feelings about the boycott because the United States, which had never won a medal in Greco-Roman wrestling, won four medals in Los Angeles, two of them gold.
"I've thought about it a lot," he said. "I think it's the best thing that could have happened to wrestling in our country. I'm not saying we wouldn't have won the medals anyway. But it gave many countries in the world, including us, a chance to shine."
Most U.S. athletes and officials hope that the series of boycotts has been settled by the last one. Some don't seem to care.
"I think there should be two Olympics," Brooks Johnson said. "One for them and one for us. It doesn't promote good will and friendship, anyway."
But U.S. volleyballer Pat Powers expressed a completely opposite emotion when asked during the Olympics about the absence of the Soviet team.
"I honestly wish they were here," said Powers, "if for no other reason than that they are our friends. We've stayed out late with them, had good times with them all. They would've added to the whole experience."