”Miracle on Ice” never gets old


The Winter Olympics are in full swing in Sochi, Russia, so that means that tens of millions, maybe billions, of folks around the world are dialed in watching the happenings.

I have never been much of a Winter Olympics fan. The Summer Games are the ones I relate to more. Not that I will ever compete for the title of World's Fastest Man or challenge any of Mark Spitz's times in the pool, but I just prefer fun in the sun to slipping on ice.

My Winter Olympic memories date back to the 1968 Games in Grenoble, France, when I was a lad of just four. For whatever reason, I remember French skier Jean-Claude Killy winning Gold in the downhill, giant slalom and slalom.

The only recollection I have of the 1972 Games in Sapporo, Japan, is ski jumping. Watching those daredevils ski down the giant snow slide and then flying through the air quickly made that event my favorite Winter Olympic sport to this day.

Next up was Innsbruck, Austria, in 1976. By 1976 the Games had become big business. As my editor, Rob Carrigan, wrote in his column last week, figure skater Dorothy Hamill won Gold and captured the hearts of men and women everywhere.

Austrian favorite Franz Klammer won the men's downhill in alpine skiing. To nobody's surprise, the Soviet Union won its fourth consecutive hockey title.

Segue to the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, New York.

Just about anyone in America over the age of 45 today remembers those Games. The highlight of the Lake Placid Games, of course, was the United States winning the Gold medal in hockey.

Known the world over as “Miracle on Ice,” the United States was not expected to advance out of Group play, much less stand up to the greatest teams in the world.

Sports Illustrated selected the team's victory over the Soviet Union as the No. 1 sports moment of the 20th century.

It was a magical ride that happened amidst the backdrop of the Iranian hostage crisis, the Cold War and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Those events made the now fabled “Miracle on Ice” even more impactful on American history.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to interview Mark Johnson, a forward on that United States team and now the head women's hockey coach at the University of Wisconsin.

Johnson was a star player for the University of Wisconsin in the 1970s (he still holds the school record for career goals with 125) and had already represented the United States in International tournaments in 1978 and 1979. His father, “Badger” Bob Johnson coached Team USA at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, where it finished fourth.

The Soviet Union was the premier team in the world - amateur or pro. The Soviets entered the Lake Placid games as the heavy favorite. In the four Olympics following their 1960 upset by Team USA at Squaw Valley, Calif., Soviet teams had gone 27-1-1 and outscored the opposition 175-44. In head-to-head match-ups against the United States, the cumulative score over that period was 28-7.

The coach of the 1980 USA squad was Herb Books. Nine of the 20 players on the final United States squad were players who skated for Brooks at the University of Minnesota.

Entering the 1980 Games, Team USA was a decided underdog. It was confirmed by a 10-3 defeat at the hands of the Soviets in the final exhibition game in New York City's Madison Square Garden just prior to the Games.

The United States' run to Olympic Gold included a 4-0-1 record in the Group play, setting up the medal round game with the Soviets. Amazingly, ABC showed the game on tape delay, but none of us knew that.

The victory did not clinch a medal for the U.S., however. The round-robin tournament meant the Americans had to defeat Finland the next day to clinch the Gold.

Against Finland, the U.S. came back from a 2-1 third-period deficit to win 4-2. Johnson assisted on the game-winning goal and scored the insurance goal with less than four minutes remaining in the game. The Gold medal game was shown on live TV.

By the way, did you know that the 1980 USA hockey team trained for a while in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center? I think that is pretty cool.

What are your favorite Winter Olympic memories? We would like to know. Email us, write us a letter or give us a call.



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