The world often doesn’t make sense, and it seems that the absolutely inexplicable becomes more commonplace with each passing moment. A D-List reality TV star became the leader of the free world. The media now uses the word “trolling” to describe international espionage. Just a few short months after Kim Jong Un threatened nuclear war, the two Koreas united for the first time in sport, fielding a joint women’s hockey team at the Olympics. Kids eat tide pods, or maybe they don’t. No one really knows if it’s just another Jenkem situation.
The world rarely makes sense. A made-up currency generated by computers is worth tens of thousands of dollars, despite the fact that generating it uses more power than the entire nation of Ireland. Malcontent teenagers gun down their classmates and teachers by the dozens at a rate that feels like once a week. Every time you turn on the news, every time you refresh your feed, it’s something increasingly hard to explain – to your friends, to your families, to yourself.
Sport has long been a divider. A simple, recreational game blown up to massive proportions. Sports have been responsible for an unfathomable amount of moments that just don’t make any sense. 96 people being crushed to death at a Liverpool match. The fans of the Philadelphia Eagles rioting in the streets after a Super Bowl victory. Racist chants. The literal decapitation of a referee for missing a call during a soccer match. The countless amount of football players who suffer life-altering brain damage to entertain you every Sunday. Much like the world we live in, sports rarely make sense.
The modern Olympics have always been a political affair. At the height of the Cold War, the threat of boycott steered negotiations between the US and the Soviets. In 1936, black American track star Jessie Owens won a gold medal in Hitler’s Germany, openly defying the concept of the Aryan Superiority. In 2018, the symbolic banning of Russia the country but not Russian athletes is a wholly political gesture. The games exist under the banner of unity, but unity is often not achieved.
38 years and 1 day ago (as of this publication) the 13th annual winter games were held in Lake Placid, NY. Soviet troops had just invaded Afghanistan, which would prove to be something that still affects our geopolitical landscape to this day. The gas crisis was in full swing. The Iranian embassy hostage crisis was still fresh in the minds of everyone in the US. The miles of red tape, of lines that demanded to be carefully navigated, and the political implications of these simple games for medals make almost no sense from an outsider’s perspective.
At the not-center of the 1980 games was the US hockey team. A group of college-aged kids, only together for 7 months before the tournament began, with only the goal of defeating the Soviet team – a team that played together year around and had won 14 world titles between 1960 and 1980. The Americans, the massive underdogs, entered the tournament fresh off a 10-3 exhibition loss to the Soviets. Political protests took place at the matches, and the political tensions soared as the games began.
13 days after losing 10-3, the Americans realized this was no longer just a hockey game. Telegrams and letters poured in from all across America. From Texas to Boston to California to Montana – America was united against the red machine, and 38 years and a day ago, America defeated the Soviet Union 4-3 in the semifinal match in what is considered the biggest upset in the history of sport, and would go down in history as The Miracle on Ice. Not only did those college boys win a hockey game – they united a country.
Sometimes the world doesn’t make sense, but sometimes it doesn’t make sense in a good way. Sometimes the underdogs deliver a too-good-to-be-true fairytale story that has the power to touch the hearts and minds of even the most jaded news and politics junkies. Whether it’s a group of 20 young Americans standing up to the unrelenting and invincible image of the Soviet ideology and coming out on top, or it’s a scrappy squad of footballers from Leicester winning the best football league in the world at 1000 to 1 odds, or its two countries that share a name and a peninsula setting aside threatened nuclear war to play hockey under the same flag, there are stories in sports that have the power to give us something positive.
38 years and 1 day after the Miracle on Ice, Germany and Canada played a game of hockey in South Korea. Germany, a massive underdog, has only won two hockey medals in it’s history – a bronze in 1932 and another bronze in 1972. Canada should need no introduction. A hockey powerhouse unrivaled in skill since the collapse of the Soviet Union. 38 years and 1 day after the USA beat the Soviets 4-3, Germany beat Canada by the very same score.
This game may not have had the political implications that other games have, but this game did unite and inspire. People all across Germany tuned in from work, talked about the game online and in public spaces, and for that 60 minutes, every German could stand together, and every hockey fan in the world could be inspired by one of the all time moments in underdog history.
For every horror story that arises from sports, there is something like this – something inspire, something that can provide hope or joy or any other sentimental feeling. Something that be a short break from the nonsense world we live in. Maybe it’s JJ Watt giving millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of his time helping rebuild Houston after the hurricanes. Maybe it’s the Chicago Cubs winning a world series after 108 years, bringing a large and often divided city together. Maybe it’s Harrison Browne, the first transgender professional athlete in team sport, inspiring LGBT athletes everywhere with his fantastic play in the NWHL. Maybe it’s a nearly-40 year old story about Peak American Patriotism defeating the Soviet menace. Maybe it’s Germany beating the powerhouse Canadians.
Sports can divide, but sports can unite. Sports can provide the real life underdog stories that humanity adores. People of any background can stand together, brought together only by the shared human experience of bonding through competition. During the final seconds of that fabled USA – Soviet game, Al Michaels asked the world if they believed in miracles over the roar of a home crowd. The answer should be yes.