Forty Years Ago, American Hockey Players Won An Olympics Gold Medal But Politically It Was An Afterthought

The Cold War as a backdrop.  

On February 24, 1980, the United States hockey team beat Finland to win the gold medal at the Lake Placid Olympics. An achievement yes, but the American team two days earlier beat the Soviet Union in a game many did not see or even know was being played. The Americans, made up of mostly college players, upset the heavily favorite Soviet team with the Cold War setting the stage. In 1979, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan and the United States President Jimmy Carter was bristling. Carter had more than the Soviets on his mind as Iran had taken 52 American hostages. The Soviet Union situation was getting worse on a daily basis. On December 20, 1979, NATO allies began thinking about boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics. On January 14, 1980, the Carter Administration set a deadline of February 20 for the Soviets to get out of Afghanistan or there would be punishment including a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Games.  Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark announced Canada would join the United States in an Olympic boycott. The Soviets remained in Afghanistan. Carter announced on February 20 that the United States would not participate in the Moscow games.

The hockey game took place on February 22. Because the Americans had won, the game took on a life of its own. It became known as the “Miracle on Ice” because of the ABC announcer Al Michaels’ end of game call, “Do you believe in miracles, yes!” The Lake Placid game was the first event where the USA! USA! chant was heard. Carter called the team to congratulate them for beating the Soviets. It was only a game but politically and culturally it was the most significant sports match up of the 20th century. America boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.

FILE – In this Feb. 22, 1980, file photo, the U.S. ice hockey team rushes toward goalie Jim Craig after their 4-3 upset win over the Soviet Union in a medal round match at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. Some of the U.S. players shown are Mark Johnson (10); Eric Strobel (19); William Schneider (25); David Christian (23); Mark Wells (15); Steve Cristoff (11); Bob Suter (20) and Philip Verchota (27). (AP Photo/File)