Olympics-Ice hockey-Miracle on Ice revisited 30 years later

VANCOUVER Mon Feb 22, 2010 7:45pm EST

VANCOUVER Feb 22 (Reuters) - Jim Craig still believes in miracles, and the goaltender of the U.S. ice hockey team that beat the mighty Soviets at the 1980 Lake Placid Games believes that is the legacy of the Miracle on Ice.

Thirty years ago today a squad of unheralded U.S. college players ended the Big Red Machine's reign as four-time Olympic champions with a 4-3 triumph many consider the greatest upset in the history of sports.

Sounds like the script of a Disney movie -- and it was -- but the stirring victory still inspires as do other moments from that game, such as Craig scouring the stands to find his father during the wild celebration.

"You really enjoy it because it made so many people happy," Craig told reporters on Monday. "I know over the years, I've had kids tell me that they weren't talking to their dads and after the event they talked to their father.

"Women who never played hockey have a dream of becoming hockey players and just look at the USA and Canada girls (at this Olympics) and how fabulous they are."

The now familiar "USA, USA," chant was put on the map during the 1980 ice hockey team's run to gold, the thundering cheer shaking the Olympic Center rink which has since been renamed the Herb Brooks Arena after the U.S. team coach.

Craig shared some memories after putting his signature next to a pastel chalk portrait of himself at an exhibit featuring images of U.S. Olympians on a wall of fame. Craig and the team were inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983.

"I think the greatest thing about our victory is that it was more than a hockey game to a lot of people," Craig said. "We didn't realize that as players. But as you get older and you have children, you understand how important legacies are in life and it gets more and more important to us.

DAVID AND GOLIATH

The victory came in the semi-finals. Two days later the U.S. team beat Finland 4-2 to claim the gold years before players from the National Hockey League began competing in the Olympics.

Besides the David and Goliath angle, the win came during Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. And while the game still stokes national pride in the United States, Craig said it travelled even further.

"It made a lot of countries happy," said Craig, who had a brief NHL career before going into business as a motivational speaker. "A lot of people were against Communism and it made those folks happy as well."

Craig said it was miraculous that even the Russians now mark an occasion once considered an embarrassment.

He said he just heard from twice Soviet Olympic gold medal winner (1972, 1976) Vladimir Lutchenko, who he became friends with him while coaching children together outside of Boston.

"He said, 'Jimmy, I'm going to be here.' There's not Cold War with us. It's just great. The Russians are inviting me to a party. Look how much this has changed. It's wonderful." (Editing by Frank Pingue; To query or comment on this story emailsportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)