Eighty-one nations participated in the first Games to be held in a Communist country. The US team did boycotted by the Games in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Fifteen other countries marched in the Opening Ceremony with the Olympic Flag instead of their national flags, and the Olympic Flag and Olympic Hymn were used at Medal Ceremonies when athletes from these countries won medals. Liberia took part in the opening Ceremony but withdrew from competition.
Despite the lowest of competing countries since 1956, there were 203 events which were more than at any previous Olympics and just over a fifth (21%) of the competitors were female. Eight nations appeared for the first time at an Olympics – Angola, Botswana, Laos, Nicaragua, Seychelles, Mozambique and Cyprus. Zimbabwe also made its first appearance under that name; it had previously competed as Rhodesia.
Referred to as the Olympic Boycott Games, the Games of the XXIII Olympiad was plagued by charges of rigged judging and poor sportsmanship. There were 9,292 drug tests and none positive. The mascot was a bear called Misha which was designed by Victor Chizokov.
During the opening ceremony, Salyut 6 crew Leonid Popov and Valery Ryumin sent their greetings to the Olympians and wished them happy starts in the live communication between the station and the Central Lenin
Major broadcasters of the Games were USSR State TV and Radio. The NBC, had intended to be a major broadcaster but canceled in response to the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics.
The most thrilling moment of the Games came in the last lap of the 1,500 meters where Sebastian Coe of Great Britain outran countryman Steve Ovett and Jurgen Straub of East Germany for the gold.
In the pole vault competition, despite pleas for silence in three languages, jeers, chants and whistles among the different factions in the crowd supporting French, Soviet and Polish pole vaulters could be heard.
Immediately after Kozakiewicz secured his gold medal, he responded to the jeering Soviet crowds with an obscene bent elbow gesture. This gesture is now referred to in Polish as "Kozakiewicz's gesture".
At the closing ceremony, the Los Angeles city flag, rather than the United States flag, was raised to symbolize the next host of the Olympic Games, and the Olympic flag was handed over to the IOC President rather than to the mayor of Los Angeles. This was the first time that the Olympic Flag Handover took place during the closing ceremony.