At 16:00 on July 20, 1980, the Olympic flame was lit and the Olympic anthem sung in the Estonian capital – Tallinn became a host city of Moscow Olympic Games' sailing program. It is the only time Estonia has been given the opportunity to hold an Olympic competition.
Tallinn was chosen host city of sailing and yachting program, part of the modern Olympics since its first games in 1896, due to Moscow's long distance from the sea.
It is unknown whether Latvia's capital Riga, about 100 kilometers closer to Moscow, was also considered, but this was one of those rare occasions when Estonia and Tallinn benefited from being part of the Soviet Union, despite the Estonian government in exile protesting against the event taking place in the occupied territory.
Many great buildings, still standing the test of time today, were constructed, some using the voluntary help of Tallinn inhabitants.
Modern Olympic Sailing Center, still in good condition and now housing a hotel, spa and casino, was built in Pirita, at Tallinn Bay. Now iconic 314 meters high radio and TV tower, which improved the quality and range of television and radio broadcasts, was erected in Kloostrimetsa, not far from Pirita. A four-lane 5.5 km expressway, enjoyed by suburban commuters on these days more than ever, was opened from the city center to Pirita, with a new bridge over the Pirita River.
In the city center, a new 28-storey Hotel Olympia which at the time was the tallest building in Tallinn, took shape – to accommodate the regatta visitors, but still standing strong to this day.
Last, but not least – the new Tallinn airport, recently voted one of the coziest airports in Europe, was constructed specifically for the occasion, designed by a Moscow airport design office.
Expert Polish restorators were also brought in to take care of the crumbling Medieval Old Town – the quality of their work is self-evident 35 years later.
The only structure from the Olympic building boom that could be considered a failure today is the City Hall (Linnahall), a concrete monstrosity now lying idle by the Tallinn harbor, which bore the name of Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport during the occupation. Its heydays were the 1980s when it hosted the biggest concerts in Tallinn and some of the biggest names in Estonian pop and rock scene recorded their albums at its then state-of-the-art recording studio.
Estonian artists and designers used their imagination to create posters, souvenirs and promotional material – an Olympic mascot called Vigri was much loved by the locals and visitors alike. During the Olympic Regatta, an extensive cultural program was organized to introduce Estonia and its culture to international visitors, albeit with a strong measure of Soviet propaganda thrown in.
Unfortunately the exposure of Tallinn and Estonia was somewhat limited, however – due to the US-led boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games, in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a year earlier. Ultimately, 65 countries joined the boycott, including China, Canada, West Germany, Japan and Turkey.
The Olympic program in Tallinn consisted of six sailing classes and for each class seven races were scheduled. Medals were awarded to yachtsmen from twelve countries and with two golds, Brazil's team was the overall winner.
Editor: M. Oll, S. Tambur