Soviet citizens appreciated the sport, and the “students” victory.
Because yesterday was mostly a travel day for me, I missed the 36th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, the 1980 U.S. defeat of the Soviet Union in Olympic ice hockey.
Most people think it was the finals, but it actually was the semi-finals. The U.S. went on to defeat Finland for the gold.
On this day 36 years ago, a group of American college kids pulled off the greatest upset in sports history. pic.twitter.com/SdOZ1NGKdu
— ESPN (@espn) February 23, 2016
For me it holds a very special memory, even though I didn’t watch the game live.
I was a student in Moscow at the time, living in a large dorm just inside the city limits, on the last Metro stop before the ring road.
I studied at the Pushkin Russian Language Institute, which trained foreigners to become Russian language teachers, the theory being that the adoption of English as the international language was harmful to Soviet interests. I had no intention of becoming a Russian language teacher, but the experience was unique.
Being an American in Moscow during the Cold War was unforgettable. In fact, I was on the last Aeroflot flight out of the U.S. after we had closed the Soviet consulate in New York and suspended Aerflot’s flying rights to protest the invasion of Afghanistan. My flight was packed with expelled Soviet diplomats and their families. All the empty seats in the huge airplane were filled with consumer electronics the diplomats were bringing back with them because such items were unavailable in the Soviet Union.
It was quite a scene at the airport, with television cameras everywhere. I later learned that my parents almost had heart attacks because I was interviewed on television and asked what I thought of the expulsion of the diplomats. My response was “I agree completely,” as I boarded the Soviet airliner with the expelled Soviet diplomats heading for the Soviet Union (and in my parents’ minds, the Gulag Archipelago because of my statement).
The Pushkin Institute was almost all third-world students from communist or almost-communist countries. Lots of East Europeans, Vietnamese, Africans, and even some Iranian communists who fled the Islamic revolution in fear of their lives.
I didn’t watch the game because there was no reason to. We were going to get creamed.
I vaguely remember a TV carrying the game in one of the common rooms, but I’m not sure if that is an accurate memory, since it started at 1 a.m. Moscow time.
I do remember hearing something, it must have been the next day, about the U.S. winning. It made no sense to me. Then another person mentioned it.
And word spread quickly among our group of 10 Americans, and it was like – USA! USA! USA!
I wouldn’t see the video for several months, at least, when I returned to the U.S.
But perhaps the most amazing part was the reactions from the Soviets we met.
I remember having lunch the next day at a typical Soviet Pelmeni restaurant, where all they served was pelmeni. It was like the “cheeseburger, cheeseburger” Saturday Night Live skit, except with pelmeni. It was cheap and plentiful, so whenever we could, we ate pelmeni.
As was the custom, we shared a table with a stranger. Only in capitalist bourgeois countries did people get their own table and leave empty seats. When Bernie Sanders becomes president, there will be no empty seats at restaurants.
I remember the man congratulating us – “your students did very well” he said. Because our hockey players, unlike the Soviets, were college players. And despite the Soviet government pretense that their players were amateurs, Soviet citizens knew the real score.
And that was typical of the reactions we received. No hostility at all. Just congratulations from people who really appreciated the sport.