Friday, October 7, 2016

Opponents Are People Too

Miracle is a great sports movie--the greatest in my opinion. You know, the story of the 1980 Men's Olympic Hockey Team that beat the great Russian machine that had won Olympic gold in the previous three Olympics?

So I watched a documentary about the 1980 Russian team, and, you know, you really have to feel for those guys. You do.

We Americans generally tend to think of "the Russians" as the bad guys, but the people are pretty much at the mercy of a very controlling system of government. I won't pretend to understand how it all works, but they don't have the freedoms we do. Not now and certainly not back then. Also, Russia had just invaded Afghanistan and political tensions were running very high.

Anyway, these men, these hockey players, were all in the Russian Army--25 or 30 year conscriptions. Their original coach, dubbed the father of Russian hockey, Anatoli Tarasov, was forced to retire after the Russian team took home silver in the 1972 Olympics. Despite his very harsh training regimen, the players loved him and skated their hearts out for him. The new coach, Viktor Tikhonov, was equally strict in training, but was apparently ruled by the time clock and by numbers. The coach was no longer their father/uncle/counselor. He was the boss. The men lived in barracks eleven months out of the year. Losing was not an option, and the team continued to be very successful.

The film had interviews with several of the Russian players and their stories were very compelling. At that time, there were no Russians in the NHL, but one of those Russian players, Slava Fetisov, was destined to pave the way and become the first, playing for the New Jersey Devils.

That 1980's Olympic loss? Other than maybe being so overconfident--but that was definitely a result of the system they were in--they did nothing wrong. They played their game and they played it well in an effort to bring pride and honor to their country. They returned to Russia and were greeted by silence and shame for bringing home silver.

The film I watched was ESPN's 30 for 30: Miracles of Ice and Men and there's apparently another called Red Army that could be interesting too. Here's a link to the NPR article.

I don't know that I'll ever watch Miracle with the same mindset ever again.

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