The last few days of the Olympics have been pretty entertaining. First, the Canadian pair skaters won the silver medal only to find out that there were crooked judges who weren”t good at keeping secrets, so now the pair will get to trade up to a gold medal.
Then there was the unbelievable 1,000-meter short track competition, in which Seattle”s Apolo Anton Ohno was leading and about to win the race when China”s Li JiaJun slipped and collided with South Korea”s Ahn Hyu-Soo, who brought Ohno with him. With the rest of the competition out of the way, Australia”s Steven Bradbury who must have been thinking, “This was unexpected” made his move, gliding to a gold medal, though Ohno almost crawled to the finish line first.
Then, finally, there was the United States-Russia hockey game. Sure it was cool. The United States versus Russia in anything is cool. But Saturday night/Sunday morning”s (we”ll say that the game was played yesterday) game will never be immortalized the way the Miracle on Ice is.
While watching the game at a local watering hole, I noticed that the there was a general feeling of “It”d be nice to see America win and (Detroit Red Wing) Sergei Federov score a goal.” Needless to say, there was never a time when Americans were saying, “It”d be nice to see America win the Cold War but it”d also be nice to see communism spread to a few countries.”
There are a number of reasons why yesterday”s game wasn”t as cool as the game 22 years ago was: Sequels are never as good as the original with the possible exception of Young Guns II. The fact is that the Cold War”s over, so Americans have a “Go America” feeling mixed with a “Go (insert favorite player from another country)” feeling. We tied the Commies, so nobody bothered to drape himself in an American flag.
But most importantly, this game wasn”t as cool because the game lacked what America”s hockey team had 22 years ago amateurs. You know, the athletes who once represented the Red, White and Blue in the Olympics. Unfortunately, it”s now impossible for another Miracle on Ice to ever happen in America because the game has become America”s NHL All Stars versus another country”s NHL All Stars. I saw this game two weeks ago in the All Star game.
Now, it”s true that until 1992, America was the only country that did not send it”s professional players to the Olympics. And it”s also true that it”s nice to think that winning a gold medal won”t require a miracle.
But, it”s unfortunate that the purity of the Olympics has been diminished. Many of the same Americans that tied Russia yesterday, played in the Nagano Winter Olympics four years ago, and complained that they wish they hadn”t done so.
One of the reasons they were there is because America decided, if Canada”s sending its best players, then we are too. Since when has America followed Canada”s lead?
After finishing in sixth place in Nagano, the team made it a point to get some ink with the press so it destroyed the hotel that it was staying at as if it was The Who. This group of millionaires didn”t bring the pride and joy that the 1980 team did, to say the least.
The trend of us sending our best players for hockey stems from the 1988 summer Olympics when David Robinson and 11 mediocre college basketball players finished with a bronze medal and the American basketball community was a tad embarrassed. After all, it looks bad for everyone, the NBA included, when America finishes in third place of an international basketball tournament. Because of this, the Dream Team was formed. The best 11 basketball players in the world, along with Christian Laettner, went to the 1992 Barcelona games to show everyone who”s boss.
And from the opening tipoff to the final buzzer, everyone knew. You almost got the impression that opponents didn”t mind losing to the Dream Team, they were just happy to say, “I got dunked on by Michael Jordan,” or “I got elbowed in the mouth by Charles Barkley.” For those of you who are too young to remember these games, imagine Duke playing Michigan in basketball.
Unfortunately, America continued to send its best players to the Olympics after the “92 summer games. But don”t feel bad for foreign countries, they were happy to see America send its best. It provided these countries with the opportunity to have their own Miracle on Ice. And two years ago, Lithuania almost had such a miracle, when it played American to within two points, and actually had a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win.
The sense of pride in American basketball and hockey dissipated during these games because it”s nice to win a gold medal, but it”s not a big deal. Not with our professionals. It”d be a big deal if we didn”t win the gold medal.
And now that there is so much more to lose than to win, it”s hard to find reason to believe that another miracle is possible.
Raphael Goodstein can be reached at email@example.com.