My favorite memories from the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.
By Bob Simpson (Writer)
Every four years, something special happens. I come home from work, expecting to see my wife (who usually gets home before me) in front of the TV with my dog, watching Law and Order: SVU or Will and Grace or…I don’t know…Dance Moms or something, and I am greeted with a bone-shattering shock, because she’s watching sports. This means only one thing: it’s Olympic time.
Yes, the only time when my wife voluntarily watches sports, when a commentator comes on the television and her next words aren’t “I’m going to go read upstairs,” because that’s what usually happens (she’s very aware of my masculine needs).
So, while the 2012 London Olympics ramp up, the rosters are set, the torch-thing that burns 24/7 is loaded with more fuel than a transport barge, I like to think back on my favorite moments from Olympics past, both Summer and Winter, and since there are so many, I’m only going to pick one from each.
Before I go on, be sure you are pronouncing “Barcelona” correctly. Really aspirate that “c”, everybody.
1992 was the first year that professional, NBA players were allowed to participate in the Olympics (up until that point, it had been amateur or collegiate athletes). What this essentially meant, was that we were going to massacre the entire world.
Let’s take a look at the line-up from the 1992 Dream Team: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullin, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, and recent Duke graduate Christian Laettner. Good Lord, right? Even people who have no clue what a basketball is know most of these players (except for Laettner), and for a few short weeks, America had them all on one team. The moniker “Dream Team” was not an exaggeration.
These guys were so famous that players ON THE OTHER TEAMS would get autographs from them before and after games. I’ve even heard stories of some Croatian guy giving his camera to a teammate on the bench so he could snap some photos guarding (or trying to guard) Magic Johnson.
Their fame had a dark side as well, as there were numerous death threats against the team and security was tight. As Charles Barkley said,
“And what people don't understand, we got death threats. In our hotel, you had to have a picture ID to get in there, and we went to the pool on the roof of the hotel, there was like 10 guys standing around with Uzis. So it was kind of funny, it was like: Girl in bikini; dude with an Uzi; girl in bikini; guy with Uzi. People thought we didn't want to stay in the Olympic Village because we wanted to be big shots, but it was because we were getting death threats. They had told us this would be considered great by one of these terrorist groups if they could take out the Dream Team.”
Suffice to say, the other teams in the Olympics didn’t stand a chance. The Dream Team defeated their opponents by an average of 44 points, which is, ironically, the average that the Charlotte Bobcats were beaten by this year (You won 7 games this year, Charlotte? 7!?!?). This is just the average, readers! They beat Angola 116-48! They beat Lithuania, which wasn’t a bad team at all, 127-76!
Their closest game came in the gold medal round where they defeated Croatia 117-85, and even trailed at halftime. However, Croatia just couldn’t match the sheer talent of The Dream Team and eventually collapsed.
The Dream Team title was recycled in later Olympics, with gold medal victories in 1996 and 2000, before being utterly humiliated in Athens in 2004, earning them the nickname, "The Nightmare Team." In 2008, the Americans changed their name to The Redeem Team, and won their first gold in Olympic and International competition since 2000.
Still, none of these teams can match the star power or overall dominance of the 1992 squad.
1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid – The Miracle on Ice
Now, to the complete opposite end of the spectrum, let’s talk about the greatest hockey game ever played. I’m walking a thin line here calling this a “memory”, as I wasn’t alive for this game, but I’ve seen it over and over again (including the fantastic movie “Miracle”).
Where The Dream Team was loaded with professional gods of the sports, the 1980 hockey squad was composed entirely of college players, playing in a sport that the Americans had been anything but dominant. Despite a gold medal in 1960 and a silver in 1972, the Americans had been almost non-existent in the competition for the twenty years preceding the 1980 Olympics. To add insult to injury, they were to play against squads that had been together for years, particularly the intimidating, fierce, brilliant Soviet squad, which was probably the greatest hockey team ever assembled (The Dream Team of hockey, really).
Despite their youth and inexperience, the Americans possessed a number of advantages against their stacked competition: a “nothing to lose” attitude and the ferocious conditioning and discipline of coach Herb Brooks (R.I.P.).
Add together the underdog story with the state of the nation at the time (gas shortages, the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets, and the “general malaise” of the nation), and you had some serious sports drama cooking up in that kitchen.
The Americans came out of the gate with an explosion, tying the heavily favored Swedish squad 2-2, then stunning the world with a dominant 7-3 victory over Czechoslovakia, which was favored to win the silver medal. They followed these performances with a 5-1 win over Norway, 7-2 win over Romania, and 4-2 win over West Germany to go 4-0-1 and advance to the medal round.
The Soviets were even more dominant, defeating Japan 16-0, the Netherlands 17-4, Poland 8-1, Finland 4-2 and Canada 6-4 to advance to the next round, where their first game would be against…
It’s a point that’s often missed in the retelling of The Miracle on Ice. The game between the Americans and the Soviets was NOT the gold medal game. It was just the first game of the medal round, but the drama still existed, and with a 10-3 crushing of the Americans in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden under their belt, the Soviets were confident…which we all know leads to hubris, which leads to disaster.
After two periods of three, the Soviets led 3-2. An American power play goal followed by an epic score from captain Mike Eruzione (Italian for “eruption”), gave the Americans a shocking, unbelievable, 4-3 lead over the Soviets with ten minutes left to play. The clock ticked down, goaltender Jim Craig stood on his head to make plays, and, well, I’ll let Al Michaels tell the rest.
I swear, just watching that now, I started to tear up.
The Americans had done the unthinkable, beating the greatest hockey squad ever assembled, but, as I said earlier, this wasn’t the end. The Americans hadn’t won anything yet, and needed a victory over Finland to secure a gold medal. Trailing Finland 2-1 after the second intermission, coach Herb Brooks uttered the famous line, “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your graves.” He paused, took a few steps, turned and said, “Your fucking graves.”
The Americans beat Finland 4-2. They’d won gold.
After the 1980 Olympics, the Americans didn’t win another medal until they grabbed the silver in 2002 and 2010. Still, the memory of The Miracle on Ice is perhaps the most definitive Olympic moment for the US, both for the Summer and Winter Games.
Enjoy the Olympics, everyone. I know my wife will.
BOB SIMPSON is a writer and lives in Los Angeles, where he works for an entertainment company that he'd prefer to keep anonymous, should he accidentally diss something they made. www.bobsimpsonblog.blogspot.com
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