Nancy Drew and the 1988 Seoul Games

Elena Shushunova
Daniela Silivas
I was enthusiastic about many things when I was a kid—Kraft singles, fruit roll ups, Wrinkles dolls, Sweet Valley High—but two things particularly fascinated me:
 1.  A VHS tape of the women’s gymnastics competition at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea that I watched at least a hundred times with my sister
 2.  A Nancy Drew book titled Captive Witness about Nancy’s quest to save refugee children from an iron curtain country (while she was studying abroad!)
They actually have something in common— they provided a scary and fascinating glimpse into Cold War politics to an otherwise sheltered girl living in the middle of nowhere Michigan. 
No history book could make the effects of the Cold War as real to me (at that time, of course) as the sport of gymnastics.  By 1988 the Soviets had a long legacy of dominating in the sport and it continued that year with Elena Shushunova’s victory over Daniela Silivas of Romania, as well as the Soviet Union's win in the team event over Romania.  I didn’t realize it at the time but Seoul was the last Olympics before the dissolution of the Soviet Union into many separate counties.  When the Barcelona games came around in 1992, things were different.  The best gymnasts of the Soviet Union were now competing for as many as 15 different countries.  Although that paved the way for the Americans to make a name for themselves, I really felt sad for the former Soviets who sacrificed so much for their sport and were under an insane amount of pressure from the government and their families to not just medal, but get the GOLD.
Around the same time I read Captive Witness and while I don’t remember the story much at all, the book cover has stayed in my head over 20 years later!  I remember it almost verbatim except I swore she was wearing a swim cap to match her black wetsuit in my childhood version.  There’s something about that image of Nancy at night, in the water, while a guard keeps watch, that really creeped me out and gave me additional context (as ridiculous as that sounds) for the bleak life of the Soviet gymnasts at that time. 

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