Melanie Jones still remembers the moment her swimming world crashed.

It was 1980 and she was one of five New Zealand swimmers bound for the Moscow Olympics.

"I came home from swimming and sat down to watch the news on TV. It came over as a special news flash. That was pretty hurtful," she said yesterday.

Swimming New Zealand had decided to withdraw from the Olympic team. Bang. Just like that.

The hurt came in large part because no one at Swimming NZ had bothered to tell the swimmers in advance that they had been pulled out with the bulk of the Games team after Prime Minister Robert Muldoon's threat to cut sports funding to any groups who went to Moscow.

Back-tracking a moment, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Eve, 1979. American President Jimmy Carter was mobilising nations to boycott the Olympics scheduled for the following July.

On May 8, 1980, the New Zealand Olympic and Commonwealth Games Organising Committee voted to accept the Soviet invitation, but shortly after the Cabinet, feeling American heat, stepped in. Payments to the NZOCGA (now the NZ Olympic Committee) would be reconsidered and no special leave for selected public servants allowed.

Sports Minister Alan Highet called on athletes to "think beyond [their] own hopes and ambitions ... any athletes who did go to the Olympic Games would be letting New Zealand down".

On May 29 the NZOCGA decided no sponsor or government funds would be used to send a team and five days later the Games invitation was rescinded.

Various reasons were put forward by sports for pulling out. Eventually an original team of 99 was reduced to four - modern pentathlete Brian Newth and canoeists Ian Ferguson, Alan Thompson and Geoff Walker.

Last night a wrong was righted in Wellington, when the NZOC recognised athletes in what was then the country's largest Games team.

The New Zealand Olympians Club, which last year recognised the country's 1011 Olympians with a unique number and certificate, decided it was time to do something about the Gang of 1980.

"We got angry letters, not surprisingly, from those who were in Moscow and [saying] you always overlook us," NZOC secretary-general Barry Maister said. "We thought 'fair enough, we'll do something about it'."

They cannot be recast as Olympians because strictly speaking they weren't. But they were presented with a certificate acknowledging their part in New Zealand's Olympic history.

Of those 99 athletes, 34 never did get to an Olympics. Jones, then a 16-year-old backstroker, was one of them. But hers is a special story.

Ten years later she married Walker, whom she had known for years through the Wharenui swimming club in Christchurch. A talented athlete, he represented New Zealand at swimming and at surf life-saving.

Now a barrister in Christchurch, Jones remembers a tough time in the lead-up to the withdrawal, loaded with parental and coaching pressure.

She vividly remembers feeling devastated when SNZ pulled out.

"Like all athletes, every day that was your life at that point. To be chosen and have it taken away ... it would have been easier if you hadn't been chosen because you hadn't stepped up to the mark and qualified.

"I don't think Swimming NZ dealt with it well. We weren't even notified as individual athletes."

Jones went to the Brisbane Commonwealth Games two years later before packing it in. " I really lost that drive to hang in there."

Now she has no problem putting life's disappointments into perspective. In 1997 her husband suffered a brain tumour and died 10 months later, leaving Jones with four small children. He was just 45.

They didn't really talk about Moscow.

"It was one of those subjects I guess you think you have a lifetime to discuss, and we didn't. When he was dying we had small children and more important things to talk about. I wish we had talked more about it."

She knows her husband had no reservations about going to Moscow. "He thought kayaking had done the right thing," she said.

"The next Olympics they won gold, so they definitely made the right decision, but unlike everyone else they were in the enviable position of not having Government funding, so they could say 'stuff you', and off they went."

Jones has great sympathy for those who were medal chances in Moscow, such as fellow swimmers Gary Hurring and Rebecca Perrott.

"They were at the top of their game and I can't imagine what it must have been like for them."

Jones was looking forward to last night's gathering, with the customary 30 years-on check of hairlines and waistlines. She would have a thought for her husband. too. "He'd have loved to be there."

NZ's Moscow Olympians:
* Brian Newth (modern pentathlon)
* Alan Thompson, Geoff Walker, Ian Ferguson (canoeing)

The Unlucky 34
Chosen for Moscow but never represented New Zealand at the Olympics:
Garry Wright (archery); Karen Page, Mike Parker, Kim Robertson (athletics), Kevin Blackwell, Eric Mackenzie, Jack Swart (cycling); Rowena Davis (gymnastics); Pat Barwick, Christine Berry, Sue Emerson, Marianne Gray, Allana Hiha, Karen Thomas, Janice Neil, Judith Phillips, Gail Rodbourn, Edith Weber, Jeff Gibson (hockey); David Clark (judo); Anthony Brook, Alan Cotter, Stephen Donaldson, Duncan Holland, Peter Jansen, Robert Robinson, Anthony Russell (rowing); Jack Scott, Wayne Williams (shooting); Melanie Jones, Paul Rowe (swimming); Richard Dodson, Andrew Knowles, Gerald Sly (yachting).