Miracle On Ice: 30 Years Later
February 21, 2010Posted by on
It has been 30 years since a group of young college kids beat the most dominant hockey team in the world, and arguably one of the most dominant teams in any sport, on their way to win the 1980 Gold Medal. What is more striking is that we are now into a second generation that does not know, deep down, how important that game really was.
I was 13 years old that Olympics and was part of the generation that grew up with the political defeat of America’s willpower in Vietnam. In 1972 the US gave up on its ally in South Vietnam and left, at the same time our President acted like a petty crook by having people break into an office of his political opponents (Watergate). Then in 1975 we watched on TV the fall of Saigon, of people begging us to not leave them behind, of helicopters flying people off the roof of the embassy and landing on aircraft carriers and once the helicopter was emptied and no more flights were needed they pushed them over the side to make more room. Then the man that replaced a disgraced President became best known for being a buffoon, a prat fall waiting to happen. During this time we had one economic crises after another with oil embargoes in 1973 and again in 1979.
1979 could be described as one of the darkest hours in the nation or at least it seemed that way. What I had just described prior was bad enough but things were about to get worse. We had elected a President that thought he could finally bring peace between the US and the Soviet Union and with that also in the Middle East. After initial success in the Middle East by bringing peace between Egypt and Israel things started falling apart. In Nov of 1979 the US Embassy in Iran was overrun and its staff was taken hostage, then in Dec the USSR invaded Afghanistan, basically thumbing their nose at the US. It was also during this time that Chrysler, one of the Big 3 Automakers had to be bailed out by the Government in Dec. As that was going on the steel industry was turning into a rust belt as US companies increasingly found themselves trying to compete while using obsolete plants and equipment.
In International sports things weren’t that great either. Where communist counties basically paid their athletes (they claimed they were in the armed forces and other such scams), the US used college athletes. In Basketball in the 1972 Olympics besides the terrorist attack that killed the Israeli athletes, the US Mens Basketball team was basically cheated out of the Gold Medal. In Gymnastics you saw the dominance of Soviet gymnasts such as Olga Korbet. On the Winter Olympic side the bright spot for the US has always been the women figure skaters, but that was it. Alpine skiing was dominated then as now basically by the Swiss and the Austrians, Nordic skiing by Norway and Sweden. Bobsled and Luge the US was always also rans.
Hockey was the worst for not just the US but also Canada. The two countries that founded the sport and where the original NHL teams formed, Hockey became an embarrassment. In 1960 the US won the Gold Medal in Hockey but from that point forward were looked on as a joke. The problem was the best young Canadian and US players basically skipped college play and went straight into the NHL and because professionals couldn’t play by rule Canada didn’t compete. So starting with the 1964 Olympics the Soviets won the Gold Medal. However that was just the beginning of the story, in 1972 NHL players took part in what was called the Summit Series against the Soviet “amateurs”.
The Series was played at a time when only amateurs were allowed to play in the Olympic Games. The Soviet players, who had Olympic experience, were amateurs by strict definition only, as they were elite players playing hockey full-time in their native country. Some were given other titular professions (e.g. army soldiers playing full-time for the Central Red Army hockey team) to maintain amateur status for Olympic eligibility. Team Canada featured the country’s best professional NHLers, who by virtue of this status were ineligible for Olympic competition. For this reason, Canada had ceased competing in the IIHF World Championships and Winter Olympics after 1969.
At the time, the National Hockey League, and also its best players, consisted largely of Canadians and was considered to be where the best hockey players played. The public consensus of hockey pundits and fans in North America was that other countries, the Soviets in this case, were simply no match for Canada’s best. The Soviets were not expected to even give the Canadians a challenge, and Canada was going into this series expected to win eight games to zero.
Canada barely won the series 4-3-1 but it was not a friendly series, as Canadian player and NHL star Bobby Clarke broke Valeri Kharmalov’s ankle with a two handed slash and it also showed how good the Soviets were.
In the middle years of the 70’s there was the “Super Series”.
In 1976 the Soviet Wings went 3-1 outscoring their opponents in the games they won 13 to 7. If it hadn’t been for the 12 to 6 lopsided loss to the Sabers things would have been worse.
Also in 76 you had the Central Red Army Team going 2-1-1 against NHL teams only losing to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Flyers and a tie with Montreal, but outscoring their opponents 16 to 12.
In 78 the Moscow Spartak won a series against NHL teams 3 games to 2 and outscored the NHL 14 goals to 12.
In 79 The Wings again played NHL teams and won the series 2-1-1 and outscored the NHL 21 to 16.
In 1980 just 3 days before the Olympics in an exhibition game between the Soviet national team and Team USA, the Soviets crushed Team USA. To show how bad the odds were going in the Soviets record was 27-1-1 in the last four Olympics and they outscored their opponents 175-44. Winning the Gold Medal wasn’t the goal in most people’s minds, it was just not looking like a joke.
So when they beat the Soviets to reach the Gold Medal game it truly was a miracle and it gave a nation new hope.