It started with an Earth shattering yell from the mouth of Eric Heiden after he won his fourth gold medal. It was elevated to astonishment with the U.S. ice hockey team's amazing victory over the Soviets. Then it became a loud road which went, "USA, USA, USA."
The sound off was so intense it could be heard from the frigid coast of Alaska to the warm sandy beaches of Florida. The whole nation joined in the celebration. Pride returned to America. The United States hasn't had much to rejoice over as of late. Fifty of its citizens are still being held hostage in Iran. Detente is slipping. The Russians are threatening around the Persian Gulf. Energy is draining everybody's pocketbook and that ever present inflation is soaring into the heavens.
Then came Heiden and a group of gutsy college kids, mostly from the Boston area and Minnesota, who skated their way to an impossible dream, being a gold medal at the Lake Placid Olympics. Uncle Sam has been down lately and needed a shot in the arm. The kids in the hockey rink gave it to him along with a feeling of honor and American pride.
The Winter Olympics are history now. They were 13 days that belonged to a 21 year old Madison, Wisconsin kid in a gold suit, setting Olympic records nobody dreamed possible and a group of dark horse underdogs playing hockey for "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave" in two weeks of February that America will never forget.
The games ended in an ocean of stars and stripes with 20 young Americans standing with gold around their necks, happily singing "The Star Spangled Banner" as their flag rose approvingly over their well earned hockey gold medals. But there is one huge difference between Heiden, who wrote Olympic history with five gold medals and the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. That difference is Heiden was favored to win the gold while the hockey team, an unknown team of college players and minor leaguers weren't expected to even finish in the medal round.
In an AP interview, Heiden was quoted as saying, "People expected me to do well. But I don't think many thought the U.S. hockey team would beat the Russians." Well who did? Team USA's victory over USSR set the scene for the Americans to claim the gold, something that had not been done since 1960 at Squaw Valley, California. And that's exactly what they did last Sunday, coming from behind on third period goals by Phil Verchota, Rob McClanahan and Mark Johnson for a 4-2 victory over Finland that touched the heart and soul of the entire nation.
Fans danced their way through the streets of Lake Placid, singing patriotic songs and cherishing America's first hockey gold in 20 years. And after the game for the gold, the players basked in an emotional once in a lifetime joy of the moment. Mark Johnson, the team's leading scorer and son of America's 1976 Olympic hockey coach, described himself as simply in awe after the victory over the Finns.
When hockey players were idle, the ice rink was handed to the figure skaters. America's Charlie Tickner won a bronze and Linda Fratianne escaped with a silver in their respective events, with golds going to Robin Cousins of Great Britain in the men's event and Annett Potzsch of East Germany in the women's. But the medal most spoken of was earned by America's unknowns, who represented Team USA in the hockey tournament.
The team was seeded seven in a field of eight in their bracket. Saying they were overlooked would be in order. In the first game, the American's tied powerhouse Sweden 2-2 on a goal with just 27 seconds to play by Bill Baker. Then they destroyed the Czechs, considered the second best team in the world behind the Soviets, 7-3. All of a sudden people were thinking about a possible medal, but not a gold mind you. The Russians humiliated Team USA two weeks earlier at Madison Square Garden in an exhibition contest. Every hockey expert knew the Soviets would own the gold yet again. After all, they won the last four Olympic golds in a row.
The U.S. finished the preliminary round undefeated and moved into the medal round matched against the Russians, while Sweden and Finland played in the other medal round game. The Russians were considered by many to be the best hockey team in the world, either amateur or professional. When the game concluded it was as if David had conquered Goliath once again. The Soviets were dumbfounded and the Yanks prevailed 4-3.
Just before the Finland-USA matchup, many homelanders felt the Americans had their emotional game on Friday with USSR and would be flat and drained of spirit. But rather then being emotionally low, the defeat of the Russians served as a boost for USA and that boost propelled them to a 4-2 victory over the Finns and a long awaited gold medal. What makes this even more absorbing is Team USA came from behind in every single game at the Lake Placid Olympics.
The American victory set off a chain reaction of joy and happiness that ran from Main Street in the tiny town of Lake Placid, New York all the way to the White House, where President Carter hosted the Olympic athletes yesterday. They were all there. The Heidens and the hockey players alike, treasured their moment in American history with America's president. The Lake Placid Olympics belonged to them.
It's competitors like our American Olympians who not only make the United States the greatest nation on the planet Earth, but have also taught us to once again believe.
Hey there. I'm Rick Coe and thanks for stumbling on to my blog which contains columns I wrote while working for the now defunct Kellogg Evening News which was located in Kellogg, Idaho.