Miracle Monday: Why the Miracle on Ice is Still a Big Deal

Hello world! I'm finally rejoining normal society after my weekend in Lake Placid and... holy cow. It's such a lovely little Olympic oasis in the middle of nowhere, and the Miracle on Ice reunion was everything I'd ever hoped it would be. I will most definitely be blogging about it, but probably not until next week because I need more time to organize my thoughts into something that'll do it justice.

However, today we need to discuss some important things. With the 30 for 30 about Soviet hockey earlier in the month, I'd read numerous articles about it that essentially tore down the accomplishment of the Miracle on Ice in lieu of how good the Soviets were. One line in particular that stuck with me is that the Miracle on Ice "hasn't aged very well." And of course, there are rude people all over the Internet saying things like "omg it was 35 years ago why are we still talking about this!!!!1!!!11!!1" (to which I always want to respond, "you must be Canadian"). So, on this day after the anniversary of the Miracle on Ice and day before the anniversary of the gold medal game, I want to take a quick second to set the record straight.

1. No, the gold medal in 1980 didn't start a winning tradition for USA Hockey at the Olympics. But... so what? That wasn't really the point, was it? The significance of that moment didn't come from the fact that it was supposed to begin a dynasty. It was an isolated incident, totally unprecedented, the likes of which will never be seen again, and THAT is why it's significant. It won't, and can't, be duplicated. The Olympics are different, the country is different, athletes are different, the political climate is different. However...

2. The gold medal in 1980 DID change the face of hockey in America forever. In years prior, there were very few Americans in the NHL. But after the 1980 Olympics, the majority of players on that team went on to have NHL careers. Ken Morrow won four consecutive Stanley Cups with the Islanders. Neal Broten, Dave Christian and Mike Ramsey all played over 1,000 NHL games and amassed a collection of All-Star Game appearances, team captainships and a Stanley Cup. Mark Johnson was also an All-Star and team captain. Jack O'Callahan played in the NHL for the better part of a decade. Mark Pavelich set a rookie scoring record for the Rangers and was the first American-born player ever to score five goals in an NHL game. Catch my drift? Since 1980, the American presence in the NHL has grown exponentially, and U.S. teams are perennial medal favorites in international competition.

3. Don't ever talk to me about how the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team won just because of heart and determination. Those boys were insanely talented. (See NHL career stats previously mentioned. I don't think I need to elaborate.) So there was talent and heart and determination; they were not just a bunch of plucky misfit underdogs, so if you think that narrative is tired, that's because it's wrong. It's lazy and it's just plain incorrect.

4. The Miracle on Ice may not have ended the Cold War, but let me tell you a story. While I was in Lake Placid, I went on an arena tour guided by a man named Jim Rogers. Jim worked on the Lake Placid Olympic bid back in the '70s and stayed with the committee up through the Games, working in protocol. So he knows his stuff, and has been guiding tours for what has to be well over a decade. He told us that he's heard from numerous Russians who've taken his tour over the years that, while the Miracle on Ice didn't end communism, it started the slide. The USSR used to tell its citizens that all of its successes -- political, athletic, etc. -- were because of communism. And when the hockey team lost, people started questioning, and communism wasn't providing answers. And I'm pretty sure that growing discontent with communism played a part in the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. So, y'know, do with that what you will.

5. In a similar vein, I've seen people argue that the Soviet Union is defunct so the Miracle on Ice isn't relevant anymore... and I honestly can't figure out the logic behind that one. It's history. It's in the past. How does that make it less significant? Do we immediately forget about things as soon as circumstances are different? We still look back at Kerri Strug's one-legged vault in awe, we still treat Jesse Owens with an air of reverence, we still hail Eric Heiden as one of the greatest Winter Olympians ever... this isn't going to change. Politics aside, in the Miracle on Ice, David beat Goliath. So we'd still be talking about it regardless. But because politics were involved, it became a moment that transcended sports and entered the realms of history and pop culture. So, yeah, it may not factor into any current events, but it's always going to be there, it's always going to be important, and it's always going to be something that gives people goosebumps and makes them proud to be American.

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