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1980 'miracle on ice': an American in Moscow recalls Soviet reaction

A US student learned something about Soviet diplomacy while visiting during the 1980 Olympic men's hockey 'miracle on ice.'

By Staff Writer / February 26, 2010

Miracle on ice: The United States' Mark Johnson (10) prepares to shoot the puck into the net for the second US goal in the first period of a semifinal hockey game as the Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretjak defends at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., in this Feb. 22, 1980 file photo.




The Berlin wall fell. The Soviet Union broke up. Poland’s in NATO. Yawn.

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But 30 years ago this week, a US Olympic hockey team made up of college amateurs beat a Soviet team of experienced hockey goliaths in Lake Placid. Now that’s a miracle.

Forgive the opening facetiousness, and a slide into first person, but sometimes things that aren’t supposed to happen, evidently do.

I'm remembering the Olympic “miracle on ice” from the vantage of a Moscow hotel, as part of a college group that just arrived in the Soviet Union of Leonid Breshnev, before perestroika and glasnost, when, for cold war babies, everything east of Berlin was wrapped in mystery and enigma. Moscow had invaded Afghanistan two months before and the trip almost didn’t happen; we were one of few American groups in Russia at the time, eating green peas at every meal, since peas were the bountiful harvest that year.

We stayed in the Hotel Kosmos, a newly French- built temple to Soviet modernity that featured green flora draped uncomfortably around a set of terraces. Under one of them men shouted and slumped in front of a small “televisor.” The next day we heard they were watching US coach Herb Brooks’s Olympic hockey team pull off an upset that had been broadcast as a sure victory around the Soviet empire.

Beyond improbable

So improbable was the win that New York Times columnist Dave Anderson wrote before hand, "Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle ... the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments."


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