Sunday, February 21, 2010

30 Years Ago 9: Poised for the Medal Round

30 years ago at the Winter Olympics, the U.S. hockey team had continued to win, after their upset victory over Czechoslovakia, that I described here.

Their schedule became easier for a while. On February 16, 1980, the U.S. beat Norway by a score of 5 to 1. The Americans followed that up, two days later, with a 7-2 win against Romania. Then, on February 20, the final game of the first round ended with a final score of U.S. 4, West Germany 2.

There were 12 teams in the 1980 Olympic tournament, divided into two divisions. Sweden and the U.S. tied for first in their division, each having won all of their games, except for their tie game with each other. The USSR led the other division, with Finland in second place. Those four teams would therefore meet in the Medal Round, starting on February 22.

Unlike the current structure, there was no championship game. In the Medal Round, the U.S. played the Soviet Union and Finland, in that order, and Sweden faced, first, Finland, and then the Soviets. The gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded based on the number of points (two points for a win, one point for a tie) that each team had won against the three other Medal Round teams.

The Americans got their rematch against the Soviet team that had trounced them in their final exhibition game before the Olympics began. The rematch was scheduled for late afternoon on Friday, February 22, 1980. It was not shown live on American television.

Money had always been a factor in the Olympic Games, both ancient and modern. But the current level of commercialization of the Olympics had not yet taken hold in 1980. Corporate sponsorship accelerated, beginning with the 1984 summer games in Los Angeles. Then, in 1998, the National Hockey League began taking a break during the Winter Olympics, allowing its professional players to participate in Olympic hockey.

The commercial Olympics of the present day are designed as a television event. But, back in the Stone Age of 1980, international hockey officials were still adamant that they would make no accommodations to the needs of the TV networks in the scheduling and staging of Olympic hockey matches.

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