February 22, 1980 Lake Placid, NY
"Do you believe in miracles? Yes! Unbelievable!" These are the legendary words of ABC sportscaster Al Michaels in the closing seconds of the USA's epic victory over the USSR, a game that transcended sports and will be forever remembered by those who witnessed it.
Most Americans find joy and patriotism in those words, as well they should. Young and naive as I am, I simply am forced to wonder why winning the game is a miracle. Yes, I understand that the USSR was the best hockey team of that age, that we were in the middle of the Cold War, and the game was as much political as it was athletic. I know how the team was made up of college kids and amateurs. But something inside me, some big-headed Uncle Sam viewpoint makes me wonder, shouldn't we always win?
As a student growing up in America, History class generally made me feel as if America could not lose at anything. We learned about the bravery of Americans everywhere. Battles from the American Revolution, War of 1812, Civil War, World War 1, and World War 2. As most educated Americans know, these wars all ended in favor of the US, or in the case of the Civil War the "good guys". Of course, I now know that we haven't won 'em all. Vietnam, and Iraq (probably) will not go down in history as victories. So my Uncle Sam/schoolboy viewpoint asks, "So shouldn't the same be true in sports?"
London, England 1948
In the first Olympic Games since the famed Berlin games of 1936, the sporting world was trying to return to its feet after The Second World War ripped athletes off the playing fields and onto the battlegrounds. In the 1936 Olympics, the overall medal count was won by the Germans, with the Americans second, and Hungary in third. Today, historians question the credibility of that medal count. For example, in the cycling finals, German Toni Merkens knocked the Dutch Arie Van Vliet off his bike, in an event that none could argue could be and accident. Instead of disqualification, which seems the only suitable punishment for this infraction, Merkens was fined 100 marks, just enough for him to keep his gold. Of course, we all know the story of Jesse Owens and his four gold medals. Another example: Wouldn't you at least expect the leader of the host nation to at least stay in the stadium? Not this psychotic dictator. When black American athlete Cornelius Johnson, beat the German competition in his event, **** stormed out of the stadium in a rage.
So, lets just say that the London Olympic Games of 1948, were the first true measure of sporting dominance in a long time. In an amazing effort, the American athletes in London dominated the games, shoving aside any European doubt of the athletic ability of these newcomers. In the basketball championship, the United States defeated France 65-21 to claim. The final medal count had the United States in first with 84 points, second was Sweden with 44 points, almost half of the Americans' output. Isn't that how it should always be?
Sadly, in recent years we have seen the Americans slip in many Olympic sports. Namely, soccer. The real reason this is happening in my opinion is that there is simply not enough interest from athletes. In Britain, extremely athletic children will almost certainly be playing soccer, practicing it, and aspiring to play it one day. Here in America, the chances that extremely athletic children are playing soccer are slim to none. They will likely be playing Pop Warner football, select basketball, and Little League baseball. We just have too many sports for us to care about soccer. Let us consider for a moment, the sporting dream of a European youth is to play soccer for their country. Here in America, kids dream of the NFL, the NBA, or the Major Leagues. The true reason our soccer team hasn't been up to par lately is because of precisely this. We've got better things to do.
The fastest athletes aren't raised running track, they're playing running back. The strongest athletes aren't hurling discuses they're pitching. Olympic sports simply don't have the same attraction in America as our sports do.
So, this August, while foreign countries will declare national holidays to see their team compete, it is quite likely that we American sports fans will be watching preseason football instead, or basketball reruns. Surely, American athletes will perform extraordinarily at the Olympic Games, but the best part about being an American sports fan is, even if we lose at something, we still know that they couldn't beat us at football, or baseball. That's something that no one else has, the ability to expect victory, win, and simply get ready for football season.