Image 01 Image 03

My experience in Moscow when the Miracle on Ice happened

My experience in Moscow when the Miracle on Ice happened

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.

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.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


American Human | February 23, 2016 at 7:18 am

Sir, what a precious experience that must have been. I have a bit of experience in Russia (not the Soviet Union) starting from 2004. In the space of 7 years I traveled there probably 80 – 90 separate times staying sometimes for 3 weeks at a time and visiting multiple cities and desolate places throughout the country.
This shows how sports can unite people, even in defeat. War, on the other hand, is a different story.
I was there for a couple of weeks during the Russia-Georgia war. While the U.S. was not engaged in the war, there was a lot of rhetoric between the two country’s leaders. There was a decided coolness bordering on hostility mixed with very poor service at the restaurants we frequented.
Russians are very nationalistic and love their country as much as we love ours.
Putin may be a megalomaniac but, by golly, he’s their megalomaniac.
Thanks for the story.

JackRussellTerrierist | February 23, 2016 at 7:54 am

Professor, very interesting. Thanks for sharing that.

So…….how was the food?

I had no intention of becoming a Russian language teacher, but the experience was unique.

So, what were you really doing in Russia, at the height of the Cold War? Can you at least tell us your CIA code name?


JimMtnViewCaUSA | February 23, 2016 at 10:04 am

It’s notable how often Americans are willing to live under unfair and onerous “rules of engagement” in sports, business, war, …

Silver medal (Wiki)

In the Soviet locker room, Tikhonov singled out first-line players Tretiak, Kharlamov, Petrov, and Mikhailov, and told each of them, “This is your loss!”[58] Two days after the Miracle on Ice, the Soviet team defeated Sweden 9–2, winning the silver medal. The Soviet players were so upset at their loss that they did not turn in their silver medals to get their names inscribed on them, as is custom.[59] The result stunned the Soviet Union and its news media.
Don’t forget Russia had invaded Afghanistan and part of the symbolism in the game was us versus the bad guys.

And not to forget, those of us who are Red Wing fans loved our Soviet players who helped bring Lord Stanley back to Detroit.