Thirty years ago this month I was a freshman at St. Rita High School in Chicago. One Friday night, the varsity basketball team (featuring the starting sophomore center who was my teammate in grammar school - yes, the team was good; one game was won 53-0) was hosting De La Salle H.S. which the year before finished 4th in the state. I talked my father into taking me and we sat in the balcony of the crowded, small gym and watched St Rita lose though my former classmate had 10 points.
As we were leaving the house my mom asked, "What about the game on tv?" I replied, "I don't want to see them get blown out by the Russians." As with most of the country, I did not know that a few hours before a team of American college hockey players and amateurs in spite of being outshot 39-16 defeated the Soviet Union Army team (considered the best in the world, including those in the NHL) in the Olympics. After the American broadcast of the game was shown that evening, an announcement was made in the gym during a time out the fourth quarter of the final score to the loudest cheer of the night. I remember being stunned. Since then, I have seen the game numerous times and every time I remember my words to my mom and the fact I missed it.
With how Americans hated the USSR at the time, the game was huge. I grew up in a world where the Communist nations were the bad guys in sports and it would seem that they would bend or break rules to win or intimidate officials to give them an unfair advantage.
After the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR broke up, things changed. I was initially happy that the United States got the chance to host international sports events. In 1999, the US hosted the Women's World Cup of soccer and the nation was tuned to the event especially the final where the American women defeated China on penalty kicks after 120 minutes of scoreless action. To me, winning the World Cup on the home field was no big deal knowing that in the men's version, that was common. (that will be the subject of a post in June)
Somewhere I heard people comparing the final to the 1980 "miracle on ice". That set me off. The Soviet Union team was put together by the government whose players went to special schools to hone their skills and only played for the national team where the US team was assembled a few months before that. Looking at the US Women's roster, I noticed something very disturbing. Over half that squad went to the University of North Carolina. We have become what the USSR was.
The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City confirmed things for me. Granted, there was US sympathy after 9/11 but watching some events made me ill. Seeing a short track speed skater wrongly DQ so an American wins an event was wrong. The women's hockey finals was the most one sided officiated game I have even seen. I still can't believe how the Canadian team was able to defeat Candy Granato and the rest of the thugs who felt it was their right to get the gold. (My sister who was at the 1998 tryouts confirmed their attitude)
What was worst was the pairs figure skating. A French judge purposely favored a Russian couple over a Canadian couple who most stated did better. It was discovered that an agreement with another judge was made so the Russian couple would get placed first. Once it was discovered, dual gold medals were awarded as the French judge's scores were declared invalid as pressure by the American tv coverage forced the skating hierarchy to make that decision. I had a question that was never asked. Four other judges gave the Russian couple a better score than the Canadian couple. Why weren't their scores challenged too?
I also noticed that the US had more medals than the previous time they hosted in 1980 and that many were in events that were not in the 1980 games. This chart explains:
To my surprise, the amount of medals from added events was not as large as expected even though it was higher than events that existed in 1980. I still believe many of the newer events were added to give the US more medals so the olympics would a higher bid for tv rights by US networks.