Line Change: How The Miracle Olympic Hockey Team of 1980 Sparked The Renewal Of American Nationalism
Sporting events have often reflected the times in which they are played. At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, African American Jesse Owens outran the team comprised of member of Adolf Hitler’s “master race,” dealing a blow to the Nazi leader’s policy stance. The 1950 World Cup of Soccer witnessed perennial powerhouse England fall to the United States 1-0 at the same time the United States was surpassing Great Britain as the dominant power in Western foreign policy. In 1966, at the pinnacle of the Civil Rights Movement, the Texas Western University basketball team met the University of Kentucky in the college basketball championship game and became the first university to start any collegiate basketball game with an entirely African American squad. The most memorable of these events is the meeting between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the hockey arena at Lake Placid, New York, during the 1980 Olympic Games. The Soviet team had dominated the international hockey world for twenty years, while the American team had been assembled only one year before. The hockey game reflected the state of the Cold War. The United States was reeling as a power. The citizens had become disheartened, much like the American team when they faced the Soviets at Madison Square Garden in an exhibition weeks prior to the Olympics. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was able to project its power on a global scale, attempting to fill power vacuums left by the weakening of America. But when the American hockey team pulled off what is possibly the greatest upset in sports history, Americans felt their sense of patriotism rekindle, and the new president, Ronald Reagan, tended the flame until it became a bonfire. Within a few years, Reagan had the American people feeling that the United States was the most powerful nation in the world. Continuously relating to the people, the Great Communicator rallied support for policies designed to defeat the Soviet Union and establish the United States as the most powerful country in the world. By looking at the situation in each decade and by using the Miracle hockey game as the lens to view this emergence of a new patriotism, the sudden, drastic shift in public opinion becomes clear. America was looking for a victory to believe in, and they found it in the hockey rink at Lake Placid.