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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 August, 2003, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Ice hockey's American dreamer
By Alex Trickett

Herb Brooks
Herb Brooks believed in the power of dreams
The name Herb Brooks does not mean much in Britain.

But to American minds he will forever be remembered as the brains behind one of the greatest sporting upsets of all.

Cassius Clay's destruction of Sonny Liston made jaws drop in 1963 and "Broadway" Joe Namath's arm fired the New York Jets to a shock Super Bowl win in 1969.

But even more surprising times lay ahead as the icy grip of the Cold War tightened across the world.

Brooks, who died in a car crash on Monday, played a huge role during a time of unforgettable - if in some ways regrettable - sporting rivalry between the USA and the USSR.

At Lake Placid in 1980, he coached a group of college kids to a 4-3 semi-final victory over the Soviet Union, which had won eight of the previous nine Olympic ice hockey gold medals.

Thus was born the "Miracle on Ice" and the Americans went on to beat Finland 4-2 in the final.

Boris Spassky (left) and Boby Fischer
Spassky v Fischer part two in 1992
The relevance of the USA's success ran much deeper than sport, however.

To fill a void left by the resolved space race of the 1960s, bitter politics had spilled over into sport by the 1970s as West clashed with East.

Even chess became a matter of national importance in 1972 when American Bobby Fischer challenged and dethroned Russian grandmaster Boris Spassky.

And the same year saw a significant precursor to the "Miracle on Ice" - at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Here, the USA and the USSR played out a hugely controversial basketball final.

Carrying a flawless 63-0 Olympic record into the game, the Americans looked to have won again when they took the lead as the buzzer sounded.

America celebrate their shock win at Lake Placid
America celebrate their shock win

But three seconds were put back on the clock by the referees and the ball handed to the USSR, which snatched victory with a long pass and a lay-up.

The result was rejected out of hand by the US team, which declined to accept their silver medals.

Eight years later, however, it went a long way towards steeling their compatriots for unlikely revenge.

Ice hockey's Soviet "Red Machine" were as feared as the 1972 US hoops team when they arrived at Lake Placid, New York.

But the ever-positive Brooks told his youngsters: "You were meant to be here - this moment is yours."

We stopped dreaming - we should always have dreams
Herb Brooks

When the buzzer confirmed a late Mike Eruzione goal as the match winner, the US team bundled on top of each other in unbridled joy.

And a nation rejoiced with them, elated because the Soviet threat had been subdued and because the American dream of success against the odds had been affirmed.

It meant that much to Americans and to Brooks, who went on to have a successful coaching stint in the NHL.

Drawing on Martin Luther King Jr and - more curiously - Willy Wonka, Brooks said in one of his last interviews with the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "We grew up as kids having dreams, but now we're too sophisticated as adults, as a nation.

"We stopped dreaming. We should always have dreams."

For many, the "Miracle on Ice" will long be his dream-like legacy.

Links to more US Sport stories


Brooks killed in crash
12 Aug 03  |  US Sport


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