Thirty-four years ago, on February 22, 1980, in one of the most thrilling upsets in Olympic history, the U.S. hockey team defeated the four-time gold-medal-winning Soviet team, 4-3, at the XIII Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.
Two days later, the Americans beat Finland 4-2 and won the gold medal. The Soviet team had not lost an Olympic hockey game since 1968. Three days before the Games started, they bested the U.S. 10-3 in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The American amateur players had made it through the opening round with four victories and one tie, advancing to the four-team medal round. But the undefeated, powerful Soviet hockey team was seeded first in the rankings.
Playing before a frenzied, sold-out crowd of 10,000 spectators, the Americans looked scrappy. But nearly nine minutes into the third period, the U.S. took advantage of a Soviet penalty and scored to tie the game at 3-3. A minute and a half later, the Americans scored again.
With five seconds remaining, the U.S. team cleared the puck out of their zone, and the crowd began counting down the final seconds. With five seconds left, announcer Al Michaels shouted: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”
When the final horn sounded, the American players, coaches, and officials poured onto the ice in wild celebration. The Lake Placid crowd waved American flags and chanted: USA! USA! The Miracle on Ice was more than just an Olympic upset. To many Americans, it was a victory in the Cold War.
President Jimmy Carter announced a month later that the United States was boycotting the Summer Games in Moscow due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Faced with a major recession and the continuing Iran hostage crisis, Americans needed something to celebrate.
The improbable hockey victory was memorialized in the movie, “Miracle on Ice,” released in 2004. The Miracle on Ice is considered one of the greatest moments in American sports history. Sports Illustrated named the team its Sportsmen of the Year for 1980, the first team to receive the honor.
At a time when international tensions and domestic frustrations had dampened traditional American optimism, the underdog U.S. Olympic hockey team gave the entire nation a lift, wrote one sportswriter. “Those youngsters did so by means of the old-fashioned American work ethic, which some people feared was disappearing from the land.”