5 Reasons the Miracle on Ice Will Never Be Topped

It’s been more than three decades since the United States ice hockey team took the gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics, an achievement that was only possible thanks to the Feb. 22, 1980, upset of the Soviet national team. Since that time, Team USA’s win has been around the top of the upset charts. Here are five reasons why it will never be topped.


The Soviet Record of Dominance


The Soviet national team had a record of dominance at the time of their loss to the red-white-and-blue that spanned a quarter of a century. That’s right, for more than 25 years they were the top ice hockey program in the world. Capturing just about every world championship and Olympic tournament dating back to 1954, the Soviets would even hammer the very same Americans in the months leading up to that fateful showdown 10-3. As if that wasn’t enough reason to suspect an easy Russian victory, there was also…


The Inexperience of the Victor 


Team USA didn’t have a single professional-caliber player on the roster. Each and every player was either an amateur or a collegiate up-and-comer. On professional football terms, this matchup was like a few arena football players being paired with a few major and junior college all-stars and taking on the Super Bowl champions. Furthermore, coach Herb Brooks had only proven himself at the collegiate level and had been only a fair player in his skating days. And then there was that abysmal exhibition beat-down.


Media Overload


Aside from the David-versus-Goliath nature of the pairing, the Miracle on Ice has little chance of ever being beaten due to media overload. Soccer is an even larger presence today than it was back then, and has effectively infiltrated American pop culture. The NFL grows larger with each passing year. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association are both on the rise. Ultimate Fighting Championships didn’t even exist in 1980, but now commands a significant global presence thanks to the efforts of Zuffa Sports. And while ice hockey hasn’t helped its chances of attracting public interest with its strike/lockout-happy bickering, it still has its fans. Basically, for an upset to have the same value as the Miracle on Ice, the people have to care. It’s hard to do that when they’re getting pulled in so many different directions.


Fragmenting of Talent


With media overload, lots of different sports get lots of attention. Athletes have more choices on which to focus their energies. Money and exposure pull them in different directions and so the most talented individuals are not funneled into one area of competition as they would have been 30 years ago. As a result, the lowly Kansas City Chiefs could beat the Baltimore Ravens on any given Sunday and even an Arkansas State Red Wolves can fare better than their Arkansas Razorbacks counterparts. Yes, there is still a talent differential for different collegiate and professional organizations, but there is not as wide of a gap as there used to be.


Use of Illegal Substances


Even illegal substances now take away from the glory of a good old-fashioned underdog story. We question everything because we’ve been burned by the Mark McGwires and the Lance Armstrongs of the world. The thrill of the sport still fascinates us, and we acknowledge that sometimes the ball bounces in the direction you wouldn’t suspect, but rather than sit there gazing at the TV, jaw scraping floor, we shrug and go about our business with the thought, “Yeah, they’re probably juicing.”


Now 33 years removed from the Miracle on Ice, the state of the sports world seems more tarnished than it ever has been. And perhaps it’s this fundamental shift away from innocence that makes the 1980 Team USA victory more special to us. What do you think—will the 1980 Miracleon Ice ever be duplicated in another sport, or are there upsets you feel rise above this accomplishment? If so, we want to hear about it. Share your thoughts below!

  • While you dance around it somewhat, you miss — far and away — the No. 1 thing that makes another Miracle on Ice impossible: The fall of the Soviet empire. You have to remember, in 1980, Soviet players had no other options. They weren’t allowed to play in the NHL. So the best players in the world were on the Soviet international team. That was as high as they could go. It was nearly a full decade later that Sergei Priakin (Calgary Flames) became the first Soviet player in the NHL. Today, even if Russia had the 20 best hockey players in the world, they’d all be in the NHL. Yes, I realize NHL players now play in the Olympics, but the field is more level because every country has NHL players, not a handful of 22-year-olds, of which only a handful had even respectable pro careers. On top of that, these “Dream Teams” get together for the Olympic tournament only. They don’t develop for years — or even months — playing together the way the old communist programs did. Right after the Miracle on Ice, ABC legend Jim McKay, supposing football was played in the summer Olympics, said the upset was comparable to a group of Canadian college players beating the Pittsburgh Steelers (then the reigning Super Bowl champions) for the gold medal. To this day I have not heard a better analogy.