1980 US ice hockey team locker
1980 US ice hockey team locker

It was February 22, 1980. The American men’s ice hockey team were in a locker room in upstate New York, preparing for a game against the Soviet Union in the Olympic Winter Games. Bill Cleary was the head coach of ice hockey power, Harvard University, and he stopped by the locker room to wish his friend, Coach Herb Brooks, good luck. They talked, and then Cleary left the room.

“Then I see the trainer chasing after me and says Herb wants me to go back in to talk to the boys. So I went back and this is what I said: ‘I know what’s going through your mind. You feel isolated here in upper state New York, oblivious of what’s going on in the rest of the world. But you have captivated our entire country and everyone is pulling for you. There are 20 guys pulling for you more than anyone. And that’s the 1960 team. There is only one outcome. You’re going to win!'”

To Cleary, member of the 1960 US ice hockey team, the first American team to win gold in the Olympics, being an Olympian is an honor. When he attended his first Olympics in 1956 in Cortina Italy, he remembers being 21, a kid who never left Boston thrust into the incredible beauty of the majestic Alps. “I thought the sky was so beautiful and was so close it was going to come down on you. Heaven was right there. And we were marching in the parade during the opening ceremony, not long after World War Two and the Korean War, and in came the Russians, the ogres.” But they weren’t there to fight. They were there to compete in sports. “That’s what makes the Olympics so special,” said Cleary. “Olympians can do more for world peace and good will than all the politicians in the world.”

(L-R): Bill Cleary, Dick Meredith, Weldy Olson, Dick Rodenhiser, and John Mayasich were on the 1956 and 1960 US teams
(L-R): Bill Cleary, Dick Meredith, Weldy Olson, Dick Rodenhiser, and John Mayasich were on the 1956 and 1960 US teams

But Cleary believes being an Olympian is also an obligation, an obligation to demonstrate a bond across nationalities and generations, to continuously uphold an Olympic spirit. He remembers the performance and the behavior of the US Men’s ice hockey team at the 1998 Nagano Games. He didn’t like the addition of professional athletes, but when they reacted to poor performance at the Games by vandalizing the locker room, he was miffed. “I was really upset about that. They should have been proud to compete, but instead they were burning their uniforms. We are Olympians. We should take great pride when we represent our country.”

In contrast, Cleary remembers a time in Czechoslovakia he will never forget. In 1983 Coach Cleary took his Harvard hockey team over to Prague. It was Christmas time, but you could tell the locals were having a tough time, he said. On the second to last night of this tour, the interpreter informed him that a fellow Olympian from the 1960 Czech ice hockey team wanted to see him. And when they pulled into a small coal-mining town called Koln, Cleary stepped off the bus to be greeted by Czech goaltender, Vladimir Dvoracek.

“And all of a sudden Dvoracek, he sees me, and shouts ‘Bill, Bill!’ He brings me inside to a room and says ‘coffee, beer, coke?’ He wanted to know what my life was like, about my teammates, about the US. It was almost like he was interrogating me, he had so many questions. Finally, I said I got to go and prepare the team for the game. We warm up, and at the end of the warmups, they play the national anthems. I see my friend Dvoracek and he grabs the microphone. He tells the audience, ‘I want you all to welcome my good friend Bill Cleary. We have not seen each other in 25 years. Our countries are not friendly, but we are friends. We are Olympians and we are friends.’ I am getting goosebumps right now just thinking about it.”

Czech goaltender, Vladimir Dvoracek, sits in the front row, fourth from the left.
Czech goaltender, Vladimir Dvoracek, sits in the front row, fourth from the left.

After the game they met again, and Dvoracek brings out a scrapbook with pictures of his hockey career until it comes time for me to leave. “He was sad, kind of tearful that I was

Bob (14) and Bill (7) Cleary
Bob (14) and Bill (7) Cleary

The team was set. Nobody on the team wanted the new guys. So when Bill and Bob Cleary joined the US ice hockey team at the deadline, just prior to the start of the Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley California, their reception was, well, icy. “When we arrived on the rink in Denver, the other players walked by us without saying a word,” Bill Cleary told me recently.

“I thought, well, this is going to be fun.”

The brothers Cleary were members of the US ice hockey team and Olympic champions, not in 1980 – the Miracle on Ice- but in 1960, the so-called “Forgotten Miracle”. While Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, and Mark Johnson became house-hold names at Lake Placid in New York, by beating the Russians on their way to gold and glory, the 1960 US ice hockey team did that first.

Captain Jack Kirrane, star goaltender Jack McCartan, John Mayasich, the Christian brothers, and the Cleary brothers shocked the hockey world by knocking off perennial powers Canada, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia in succession. The Cleary brothers alone accounted for 24 points in the seven Olympic games, and they weren’t even on the team two weeks before.

As Bill told me, they were businessmen first. He and his brother Bob were just starting a fledging insurance company. Bob was married and Bill was soon to be. Playing in the Olympics would have meant lost revenue. But the coach of the US team, Jack Riley, was heading a team that was struggling, losing to teams across the country. So Riley was persistent. “He kept calling me. I don’t know how many, but quite a few. I finally said, if you want to take me, you have to take Bobby too. Bobby was good, the leading collegiate scorer in the country, and was on the 1959 World Championship US team.”

Coach Riley convinced Bill Cleary to join, and with him came his brother Bob. This led to two cuts from the team, one very famous one – Herb Brooks – the eventual coach of the 1980 US team. But this decision proved decisive. Once the brothers Cleary joined, the team did not lose a single match prior to or during the Olympics.

Bob Cleary passed away a month ago, on September 16.

“Bobby was a classic centerman,” said his brother Bill. “He had a great ability to know where people were on the ice, a sixth sense. And he smelled the net. In the game against the Canadians, he scored the first goal. If you ever watch the game, he won the face off, and when Mayasich passed toward the net, Bobby was prone in the air when he chipped the puck into the net.”

Bill and Bob Cleary were brothers on the team, but when they first arrived on the team, as remarked on earlier, there was no brotherly love for them. It took one game in the Olympics to turn that around, according to Bill. “When we first got on the ice for the first game, my brother passed it to me. I shot the puck and it hit the other winger, and the puck went into the net. There’s a great picture of the three of us hugging each other. And when we started to win, it got better.

“Today, you would never know we had those problems in the early days. We’re all very close today.”

Many remember the 1980 Men’s Ice Hockey Team. But we cannot forget the 1960 team. Here’s the trailer of the film, “Forgotten Miracle”, depicting the journey of that pioneering American hockey team.

It’s spelled “Pyeongchang”, but apparently, IOC officials have taken to spelling it “PyeongChang”.

CamelCase strikes!

But why?

Map from the New York Times.
Map from the New York Times.

Who knows. I suspect the reason is – even if you had the slightest memory that PyeongChang was hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 2018, you might confuse it with Pyongyang in North Korea. In fact, according to this New York Times article, IOC members actually did confuse the two in the initial bid for the 2010 Winter Games.

So the host in 2018 is PyeongChang, South Korea, not PyongYang, North Korea. Having said that, PyeongChang is not far from North Korea, and a large number of its inhabitants had parents who escaped from North to South in the early 1950s, with the hopes that a resolution to the Korean War would allow them to return. Instead, they remained in the part of Korea that would continue to be one of the least developed in the country.

And yet, as time passed, Koreans appreciated more and more the winter beauty of the Gangwon Province, where Buddhist Temples and ski lifts abound. South Korean officials have been driving the vision that PyeongChang will again place South Korea on the map, completing a sporting cycle – hosting the track and field world championships, the World Cup and both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games – as well as revitalize a part of Korea that has languished economically.

While the mountain events will take place in PyeongChang proper, the indoor events will take place in Gangneung by the Eastern seaboard of Korea, about 30 kilometers away. Not only will world-class facilities be developed, a high-speed railway system is also being built to transport people between the two sporting venues in less than 30 minutes.

So remember, it’s PyeongChang, not Pyongyang, and it’s Gangneung, not Gangnam.

Damn. I’m $5.7 million short.

OlympicTalk

Miracle on Ice goalie Jim Craig wants to sell his Olympic gold medal for $1.5 million as part of a lot of 19 items from the Lake Placid 1980 Winter Games for $5.7 million total.

The lot information is available here.

“For the past 35 years, these items have been at the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Boston Sports Museum, the New York Sports Museum, and I think we’ve done a good job showing them because this moment was so big that I truly believe everyone was a part of it,” Craig said, according to ESPN.com. “But after the 35th anniversary [in February], and after our teammate Bobby Suter died [Sept. 9], I thought it was important to be responsible with these pieces to grow and protect the legacy for my family.”

The lot also includes Craig’s jersey from the 4-3 upset win over the Soviet Union ($1 million)…

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We don’t all let loose that mighty yalp in victory, jump on the pile, brother upon brother, bonding with a screaming universe that borders on the spiritual.

We sometimes go inwards, burrowing towards the source of the volcano, feeling the rumble grow. But we won’t show you. This moment isn’t for you.

When I read this passage below in “All Together“, by William Stowe, about his eight-man crew’s victory at theAll Together US trials for the chance to bring Olympic Gold back to America, I am reminded of the film “Miracle“, about the stunning 1980 victory of the men’s US ice hockey team over the USSR. In this scene, just after play-by-play announcer Al Michaels screams “Yes!”, the coach of the team, the legendary Herb Brooks, finds his way to the end of the bench, smiles at his wife, and then vanishes alone into the passageway under the stands.

He is alone. He is feeling the rumble grow. And he is happy.

Stowe had a similar experience, 16 years earlier. As he writes, his team has pulled off a mammoth, and somewhat unexpected victory to win the US trials.

We were all basking in our victory and had no reason to hurry in packing up the boat for its return to Philadelphia. I could only think about getting the USA uniform and being a part of the American team. Later when I got to my car in the parking lot, I looked around and saw that no one was watching. Only then did I let out the victory whoop, the one I had been holding back for hours, and dance a victory jig. I had no conception of what we would have to do and how hard we would have to train to best represent America in the Olympic games three months hence. I simply was savoring the moment.

Click on link for touching video.
Click on photo for touching video from The New York Times.

We watch world-class athletes with amazement, the effortlessness with which they achieve feats of strength and speed and accuracy beyond the average Joe. And yet, in truth, tremendous effort, and risk, go into the making of an Olympic champion. Paralyzed from the neck down, Laís Souza can no longer do the flips, twirls and leaps made natural from years of training as a gymnast. A two-time Olympian from Brazil, Souza was 25 and no longer able to grow in her discipline. Someone suggested that she try aerial skiing as a way to feed her thirst for competition, and aim for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang. But Souza’s progress was so good, she actually qualified for Sochi in 2014, only a week before the start of the Games.

Laís Souza
Laís Souza

As a reward, she and her coach decided to hit the slopes for a celebratory run. And in an instant, she was on her back. And from that point on, unable to move, let alone dream of Olympic glory. “Of course I cry sometimes. Sometimes

Sandra Bezic on the cover of Asahi Graf, February 18, 1972
Sandra Bezic on the cover of Asahi Graf, February 18, 1972

“With fame, you know, you can read about yourself, somebody else’s ideas about you, but what’s important is how you feel about yourself – for survival and living day to day with what comes up.”

So said Marilyn Monroe, that candle in the wind.

Sandra Bezic was 15 years old when she competed in the pairs figure skating competition at the Sapporo Olympic Games in 1972. Sandra and her brother Val finished ninth, and were in a frame of mind in which winning a medal was out of the question, which meant they could enjoy their lives after the competition.

Their parents decided that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a country – Japan – they may never come back to, so before the 2-week competition ended, they went on a family holiday to Tokyo and Kyoto.

And one day, while walking along the streets of Kyoto, the ancient seat of government, they came upon a magazine rack at a shop that had “rows and rows of me” – a magazine with a cover graced by the youthful face of the figure skater from Canada. “We bought up a whole bunch of copies,” Bezic told me, “and just laughed and laughed.”

But Bezic was not a candle in the wind. She had a plan post-Olympics. She found a niche as a choreographer for figure skating long before specialists were a part of a coach’s toolkit in shaping future Olympians. Such skaters as Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi and Tara Lipinski had routines designed by Bezic.

Bezic went on to become a commentator for NBC during