US Ties Sweden_New York Times
Ice Hockey did make the headlines on February 13, 1980, as did so many other pressing issues of the day.

There was the “Miracle” on Ice, 40 years ago. On February 22, 1980, a squad of underdog American university students defeated what is commonly cited as the greatest hockey team of all time – the 1980 Soviet Union Team. When ABC broadcaster, Al Michaels, shouted “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” and the American team won 4-3, my household erupted with tens of millions of Americans across the country.

But it was the “miracle” on ice on February 12, 1980, a day before the start of the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, that stands in my mind as one of my biggest Olympic memories, and made Bill Baker a household name, at least in my household.

I was 17. At that time, my father and two younger brothers were huge New York Islanders fans and I was a New York Rangers fan. My Rangers had lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Montreal Canadians in 1979, and the Islanders would go on to end the Canadians 4-year championship reign to win four consecutive cups of their own from 1980. So it was natural for all of us to watch the live broadcast of Team USA’s first match against Sweden.

Team USA was ranked #7 of the twelve teams in the Olympic tournament, and they had Sweden (#3) and Czechoslovakia (#2) as the first two matches in their preliminary round bracket. All of America’s and Canada’s greatest hockey stars were playing games for the NHL during the Olympics, while every other national team had most or all of their country’s best players on the ice in Lake Placid.  Team USA coach Herb Brooks reportedly told his team that any chances of a medal were lost if they did not win or tie against the Swedes and Czechs.

We watched the ABC broadcast in our living room, although the rest of the country weren’t. The arena at Lake Placid was half filled, and the Olympics hadn’t even officially started – the opening ceremonies wouldn’t happen till the next day. But we didn’t care. We were watching, and we wanted Team USA to win.

What would become a trend at the 1980 Olympics, Sweden scored first when Sture Andersson scored midway through the first period. But first evidence of Team USA’s resilience emerged when Dave Silk (eventual New York Ranger) knotted the game with a nifty shot over the shoulder of Swedish goalie Per Lundqvist with only 28 seconds left in the second period….a harbinger of sorts.

In the third period, Team Sweden pushed ahead 2-1 when Thomas Eriksson scored early in the third period with a tap in, unchallenged in front of the American goal. Goalie, Jim Craig kept USA close with great saves as Sweden outshot USA in the third period, but despite a number of chances, the Americans remained behind 2-1 as the minutes melted away. And in the final minutes, the Swedes dominated play in the American zone.                                     

Finally, Team USA cleared the zone allowing Brooks to pull the goalie, Craig, to give them a one-player advantage, but leaving their own goal empty and vulnerable. The Americans got the puck into the Swedish zone, and after the puck flew into the stands stopping play, the Americans set up for a face off to the right of the Swedish goalie with only 41 seconds left. If they lose the face off, the Swedes could end up clearing the zone and flipping the puck into an empty net. But the Tomizawas in their living room had hope. Nothing but hope.

Mark Johnson won the face off, with the puck kicking back to Mike Ramsey, whose slap shot was blocked by a diving defender. Ramsey retrieved the puck and slid the puck to defenseman, Bill Baker, who pushed the puck into the corner. With Americans and Swedes vying for the puck behind the net, Buzz Schneider emerged with the puck and slid a gentle centering pass that Baker stepped into. With a mighty swing, Baker shot the puck between the legs of Lundqvist, with only 27 seconds left in the game.

For us in the living room, it was a miracle.

“It may be the most important point of the tournament because that one point will make a difference in their medal aspirations,” said the color commentator for Canadian broadcaster CTV at the end of the game.

Of course, the rest is history.

Team USA would go on to destroy Czechoslovakia two days later, and unpredictably win every game in the tournament to break USSR dominance and win their first ice hockey gold since 1960.

But of all those incredible games, it was the first one – the small-caps miracle on ice – that gives me goose bumps to this day.

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PyeongChang National Stadium removed_August 2018
This Aug. 25, 2018 photo shows a view of the dismantled stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which was designed as a temporary stadium. The same can’t be said for the other major venues built for the Winter Games. (Yang Ji-woong/Yonhap via AP)

Much to the relief of the IOC, Sweden has thrown its hat into the ring, and submitted a plan to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. Stockholm-Are will now join Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy as the only two areas left to bid for 2026.

In November of last year, Calgary, Canada withdrew its bid after Calgarians voted no in a thumbs-up, thumbs-down referendum to host the Games. This was after Sapporo, Japan (September, 2018), Graz, Austria (July, 2018) and Sion, Switzerland (June, 2018) pulled out of the 2026 bid process.

Calgary actually had the facilities required for a Winter Games as this Albertan city hosted the 1988 Winter Games. However, not only are ski jumps, bobsleigh and luge sliding tracks and speed skating ovals costly to build, they are expensive to maintain. For example, as CBC explains, the not-for-profit organization that operates the venues of the Calgary  Olympics have stated recently that they may have to close their sliding center down as repair costs and annual operation costs are in the tens of millions of dollars.

At least Calgary kept these facilities open in order to create a year-round place for athletes to train. Only one year after the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the six sports centers built for the Games in the northern rural and seaside towns of South Korea are hardly used, according to AFP.  The sliding center, built at a cost of USD100 million, has been closed due to the maintenance cost of USD1 million per yet, and the Gangneug Oval where speed skating events were held, and the ice hockey arena remain open but unused.

“The government should have had a long-term plan to use the Olympic venues,” said Han Hyung-seob, 37, a startup founder who took his family on a visit to PyeongChang. “After they invested a large amount of money, abandoning these facilities because it costs too much to maintain is beyond understanding as a South Korean.”

United Korean Team enters together
United Korean Team enters together

February 9, 2018 was the first day of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and I have so many memories of my 10 days in Korea.

I remember….

.…how cold it was – minus 10 degrees centigrade with a wind chill of “can’t-feel-my-face” degrees. And yet, as if cooperating with the Gods of Olympia, no snow fell, no winds blew, and no need for all the heat packs I brought with me to the stadium.

…how astounded I was when Pita Taufatofua the shirtless Tongan and his oil-slick torso came striding in with his nation’s flag…apparently too hot to notice the cold.

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Pita Taufatofua, shirtless in Rio and in PyeongChang, the taekwando-cum-cross country skiier.

…how Trump made an appearance and the Olympics great again.

Trump in the House
Fake Kim Jong Un and Fake Trump walk right by my seat.

…how confusing it was, in those early days when the bus operators were moving the bus stops and changing the times, making me 100 minutes late for a ski jump competition despite leaving 90 minutes early.

Guides
Getting directions from electronic and human volunteers alike was often confusing.

…how nice it was to grab a burger at USA House and McDonalds, which was taking a bow at its last Olympics as a sponsor.

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…how surprised I was to note that Korea had to import zamboni drivers.

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…how enthusiastic the North Korea cheering squad were – their synchronized movements, the sameness of their uniforms and faces, their enthusiastic cheers and singing – they were the must-take photo op of the event.

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…how young Koreans clamored for unification with song and dance while old Koreans clamored for a nuclear strike on North Korea.

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…how thrilling short track skating is.

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…how cool it is to meet some of the legends of Olympic history.

Valeriy Borzov_WOA Olympians for LIfe
Valeriy Borzov, IOC member and fastest man in the world at the 1972 Munich Olympics

…how K-Pop girls can warm up a biathlon competition in freezing temperatures.

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…how incredibly athletic figure skaters can be.

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Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot at the end of an exhausting spectacular gold-medal performance in pair figure skating.

…how much more amazing, I thought, it’s going to be in Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics!

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The unified Korean team marching at the Opening Ceremony.

I still have chills thinking about my first Olympics – and it wasn’t just because of the minus-ten degree weather. I stood meters away from North Koreans. I met Olympic legends. I witnessed feats of athleticism and artistry amidst crowds of amazed spectators. I felt like a newspaper reporter again, writing over 30 articles in my 8 days in PyeongChang. Here are some of my favorites:

 

Biathlon 14
Freezing before the commencement of the biathlon competition.

Chance Meeting with the North Korean Cheering Squad

Meters from North Koreans on Opening Day.

USA vs Slovakia_Ryan Zapolski goaltender

USA vs Slovakia, USA goaltender Ryan Zapolski

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The Olympians is three years old! Thank you all for your support!

I was happy to attend the Olympics for the first time at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. And what an amazing time I had. I felt like a newspaper reporter again, and generated close to 30 articles while I was there from February 8 to 18. I hope you like these select articles from 2018.

USA House 24_Michelle Kwan
Michelle Kwan at USA House.

North and South Korean leaders are talking. The momentum today is in part due to the opportunity the PyeongChang Olympics presented to the Koreans. Fingers are crossed for future talks of peace.

Chance Meeting with the North Korean Cheering Squad
Chance meeting with the North Korean Cheering Squad at the end of the Opening Ceremonies

And of course, it’s all about the athletes.

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Massot and Savchenko in their amazing long skate to win gold
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Peter Zeytoonjian of the United States Olympic Committee

Hey, there’s Bonnie Blair, the speed skater. Grab that seat near the screen – ice hockey’s up. Oh look, Michelle Kwan’s in the house! Oh, cool, the burgers are out! I hear Shaun White’s coming tonight.

USA House in PyeongChang. It’s kinda like the bar in Cheers!, where everybody knows your name.

For Americans, many of whom have been to many Olympics, USA House is an oasis Americana in PyeongChang, a place where Team USA athletes, friends and family, sponsors, donors and staff can be at home.

USA House 12
Me and Dmitry Feld

Dmitry Feld, a retired luge coach for Team USA, said “at USA House, you meet friends and family, Olympic athletes. You eat American food, and watch the American TV broadcast. It’s like being back home.”

For Kathryn Whalen, it’s the end of a long great ride of working the Olympics in her meetings and events role in corporate communications for McDonald’s. She’s grateful for USA House, “especially if it’s in a foreign culture you’re not used to, because you have everything from strong internet, to American food, to the NBC feed of the Olympic Games broadcast.”

USA House 1

Getting in USA House is part of the charm. “It’s hard to get in,” said Whalen, “so this place has prestige, which is cool.”

Cookie and Kate Reed-Dellinger are Olympics super fans. He’s been to 16 Games, while she’s been to nine, and they always enjoy the hospitality at USA House. “When I get back to my hotel room,” said Cookie, “I can only watch the Games only in Korean, and only what the Koreans want to see. But here, we can watch American television, eat American food, and see Team USA athletes here all the time.”

Shortly after, Cookie pointed out figure skater and two-time Olympic medalist, Michelle Kwan, and went up to her to shake her hand.

USA House 25
Cookie and Kate Reed-Dellinger with Michelle Kwan in the middle.

Peter Zeytoonjian, sr. vice president of marketing for the United States Olympic Committee, has organized USA House for the past six Winter and Summer Olympic Games. The former marketing leader for the NFL, Zeytoonjian said that USA Houses in the Olympic Winter Games are usually on the smaller side to accommodate the size of the winter delegation and expected number of visitors. USA House in PyeongChang is a full-service 2,000 square meter structure which holds about 100 people at a time. It has an admittedly great view of the mountains where alpine ski events were held.

He said that Tokyo American Club will be a significantly larger venue for USA House at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Tokyo 2020 is shaping up to be a great Olympic Games and we think that USA House at Tokyo American Club has the potential to be one of the best houses we’ve ever organized. It’s an incredible building in a great location, perfectly suited for welcoming Team USA athletes and supporters during the Games. We are already well into planning – and excited about what’s to come.

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Yuzuru Hanyu victorious
Yuzuru Hanyu victorious.

 

In the end, it’s always about the athletes.

The breathtaking height of the snowboarder’s leap off the halfpipe lip.

The exquisite marriage of athleticism and artistry of the figure skater.

The inexhaustible drive of the cross country skier.

The lightning quick reflexes of the short track speed skater.

The champion’s habit to shrug off mistakes and bore down.

The unbridled glee of a personal best on the biggest stage in the world.

The swell of gratefulness that settles like balm over years of pain and sacrifice.

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympiad was a success. For the athletes showed us again, as they do every two years, that striving to be the fastest, highest, and strongest is symbolic of our own everyday hope to be the best we can be.

The PyeongChang Games are over.

But the countdown to the Tokyo Games continue.

878 days to go!

USA womens ice hockey team victorious
USA women’s ice hockey team victorious

 

Russian wins ice hockey gold
China Xinhua News

 

It went, miraculously, to overtime.

No one thought it would. No one believed the Germans, 66:1 bet to win gold in PyeongChang, would stay competitive with the Russian men in the ice hockey finals. In the end, in sudden-death overtime, Russian forward Kirill Kaprizov took a pass from Nikita Gusev and blasted a shot into the net to end Germany’s incredible run, and take the game 4-3.

Team OAR won gold. Team Germany won silver….a most unexpected silver.

After losing their first two games in the tournament, Team Germany started winning, and then defeated Sweden in overtime 4-3, and Canada 4-3 in the semifinals, setting up their improbable match against the Olympic Athletes of Russia (OAR). Germany had never been to a finals before, and were happily aware that a silver medal was still all gravy.

But they realized early on, they had a chance for gold. At 16:44 of the third period, Jonas Muller took a pass from Yasin Ehliz, held the puck looking for an opening, and then rocketed a shot into the net. Germany led 3-2. All they had to do was hold on for a little over 3 minutes to achieve their first ever gold medal.

Thirty seconds later, Russia got called for a penalty. Could it really be that easy? Did they really believe in miracles?

With only a minute 11 seconds left in the game, the Russian goalie, Vasili Koshechkin, went to the bench. Players on the ice were five on five, but the Russian net was empty. Then, at a most inopportune time, the Germans had a brain cramp. As they approached the Russian blue line, the Germans dumped the puck, essentially handing the puck back to the Russians. They could have passed it back towards their own zone, and killed off more precious seconds, but instead, the Germans gave up control of the puck to the Russians.

And they took advantage.

The Russians carried it into the German zone, and you could feel an opportunity building. The puck came loose to the left of the German goalie, and the Russian forward, Gusev swatted at the puck, somehow knocking in a shorthanded goal, with only 55 seconds left in the game to tie the match.

As NBC analyst Mike Milbury intoned, “Just when you thought it was destiny for Germany….”

When the game goes to overtime, they play four on four, which is thought to be an advantage for the better skating, better passing team. That would be the Russians. And while Team OAR did not dominate, they made the great passes when they needed, the final snap pass to Kaprizov putting an end to an incredible ice hockey finals.

So for a second time in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympiad, we saw the raising of the Olympic Flag in place of the Russian flag, and the Olympic anthem playing in place of the Russian anthem.

But you could sense that the crowd and the players were singing a different song.

The Russians didn’t care. They won one of the most incredible Olympic ice hockey finals ever. And they were the champions.

Martin Johnsrud Sundby (L) Simen Hegstad Krueger (C) Hans Christer Holund (R)
Martin Johnsrud Sundby (L) Simen Hegstad Krueger (C) Hans Christer Holund (R) lead a 1-2-3 Norwegian podium sweep in the skiathlon; Yonhap/IANS

It’s an embarrassment of riches. Norway has dominated the medals table at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, easily eclipsing Germany, Canada and the US in the medal count.

In fact, in the cross country skiing event called the skiathlon on February 11, 2018, a first-time Norwegian Olympian, Simen Hegstad Krueger, gave the entire field of skiers a huge advantage, and still won handily.

To be honest, there is nothing easy about cross-country skiing, which is a grueling sport that requires tremendous levels of endurance. In the skiathlon, competitors have to ski 15 kilometers in the classical technique (similar to a walking motion), and 15 more kilometers in the freestyle technique (similar to a ice skating motion).

And Krueger, who was in the middle of the pack of 68 competitors, was given an even greater challenge. Tripped at the start of the 30-kilometer race, only 200 meters into the start, he fell to the snow, taking down two OAR athletes who fell on top of him. In the fall, one of his poles had snapped, and he had to get another one from his coach.

Suddenly , Krueger was dead last.

A fall like this would demoralize a large number of athletes. But Krueger took it one push of his poles at a time. “I was completely last in the group,” Krueger said in this NBC article, “so I had to start the race again and switch focus to catch up with the guys. When I did it, I was (saying to myself), ‘OK, take one lap, two laps, three laps and just get into it again.”

Simen Hegstad Krueger below two OAR skiers
Krueger takes a spill_Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

As Business Insider showed in this pictorial of Krueger’s progress, the Norwegian put together an amazing come back, passing 62 other skiers over the next 22 kilometers, moving into 5th place with 8 kilometers left.

Finding another gear, Krueger all but forgot his spill and last-place re-start, and moved into the lead, and built it. As Business Insider put it, “In a performance that can best be described as some combination of awesome, courageous, and (Katie) Ledeckian, Krueger put distance between himself and the rest of the field.”

Krueger won the 30-kilometer skiathlon 8 seconds ahead of Martin Johnsrud Sundby and almost 10 seconds ahead of Hans Christer Holund, making it a podium sweep for Norway.

“It is an indescribable feeling,” Krueger said. “It is an amazing day, but it started in the worst way with the fall after the first 100 meters and a broken pole. I was thinking this is over.”

Krueger was in it for the long haul, and as they say, it isn’t over until it’s over.

Red Gerard with medal
Red Gerard, Photo by Marianna Massey / Getty Images

I saw him flipping through the air on the big screen at USA House to win gold for USA in the men’s slopestyle snowboarding contest on Sunday, February 11. Then I saw him again 13 days later (this morning), competing in the inaugural Olympic men’s Big Air snowboarding competition.

And on the train ride home, I saw him again on a clip from Jimmy Kimmel Show, wearing his gold medal.

Huh?

Red Gerard is a 17-year-old snowboarding phenom, but can he defy the laws of physics and be in two geographies at the same time? No, but he has not stopped moving since he stepped off the medal podium last week.

According to this Washington Post article, Gerard and his agent saw this 10-day gap between events as an opportunity to hit the US talk show circuit during the Olympics. He flew 13 hours to Los Angeles and spent time with Kimmel on his show, with Ryan Seacrest and Kelly Ripa on CBS This Morning, and with People Magazine. After three days in LA, he got back on a plane to head back to South Korea.

 

And if we learned anything from the interview on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, Red Gerard is a poster child for snowboarding culture: nonchalant cool, humble, and eager for fun. The night before his gold-medal run in the slope style competition, he watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine in his room, overslept and proceeded to slay the slope.

Kimmel seemed surprised, saying “You were relaxed.” Gerard replied,

“Yeah, pretty relaxed. I’m pretty good with nerves before a contest. I try to treat it like any other day.”

For a high school kid, Gerard looks amazingly comfortable on the big stage. He took Kimmel’s praise and kidding with aplomb.

JK: This is unbelievable. You’re 17 years old. You got many, many years ahead of you….of disappointment by the way. It’s not going to be as good as this.

RG: (without missing a beat) I know I’m peaking here (he said with his right hand over his head). After this it’s going to be steady downward.

I doubt it. The sky’s the limit for this kid.