It’s an Olympic year, and the 40th anniversary this week of one of my favorite Olympic triumphs.
The “Miracle on Ice” occurred on February 22nd, 1980 at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, in a hockey game between the USA and the Soviet Union.
The US Men’s Hockey team was the youngest in the Olympics, averaging 21 years old. The Soviet Russians were long-time professionals, dominating the sport for decades. At a time when the Olympics were for amateurs only, the Russians fudged the rules by having state factories pay players full-time salaries for no-show jobs.
So it wasn’t going to be a fair fight.
Watch the video of the famous “Do you believe in miracles?” Play call by Al Michaels
But it was dramatic. Americans love an underdog story, and the slanted rules of international play meant that our team was widely expected to lose badly.
The Russians had beaten the US 10-3 two weeks earlier at Madison Square Garden. The Russians, in fact, had not lost a hockey game in the Olympics since the 60s.
And they opened up the game by taking a 2-1 lead. But the American side, led by Coach Herb Brooks, fought back, eventually taking the lead with 10 minutes left.
Impossibly, the college kids had come back to win it.
The crowd began counting down the final seconds, as Al Michaels made the most famous play call of the 20th century: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”
It’s inspiring, it’s historic, it’s a fun bit of nostalgia for a February morning.
What can you take away from the “Miracle on Ice” for your career, today?
The team had practiced together for the previous eight months, playing 61 games against teams from across the globe.
Made up of American college players, Coach Brooks had to train the US team on a new style of play more appropriate for international hockey.
Infamously, after a tie game in Norway that he felt should have been a win, he made them skate from one end of the ice to the other after the game until the building turned off the lights. Thinking the brutal post-game practice was over, the US team was surprised to find the coach continuing the drill into the night.
But these long, long hours of practice paid off in a team that was bonded together and better equipped to take on the best.
Coach Brooks changed the style of play on his team. Compared to the college hockey his players were accustomed to, the international style required a more physical, more wide-open type of hockey.
Brooks also put an emphasis on peak conditioning. He believed that many opponents of the professional Soviet team were simply exhausted by the last period of play, and that strength and endurance conditioning were the best answer to the Soviet challenge.
Preparing to beat the challenges you face, rather than the ones you’re comfortable or familiar with, is the path to success.
The US team were amateurs and had been beaten badly in front of a hometown US crowd only two weeks earlier. No one picked them for winners, and they could have easily settled into a second-rate role.
But they persevered.
They didn’t let the loss break their spirits. They didn’t settle for a mediocre run in the Olympics. They didn’t resign themselves to losing, as everyone expected.
Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s enough to want it very badly that can make the difference between being good and being an Olympic champion.
It’s inspirational for anyone who has ever been behind: behind in the game, behind in their career, behind in life. Because the lesson of the 1980 Men’s US Olympic Hockey Team is that you can believe in miracles.
Have an Olympic week!