Do you believe in disasters? Yes!
Yes, if you were one of the players or coaches on the 1980 U.S.S.R. Olympic hockey team. Yes, if the world will never let you forget the day you allowed a bunch of peach-fuzzed American college kids to whip your unwhippable team at the Winter Games in Lake Placid.
"I have more than 60 gold medals," says Slava Fetisov, a Soviet defenseman that day. "I have eight worlds, 10 Europeans, 13 Soviets, two Olympics. But all anybody wants to remember is the game we lost."
"I am sick after these Olympics," says Viktor Tikhonov, who was the Soviet coach that day. "I felt terrible, both emotionally and physically. I was so depressed and stressed. I was sick for weeks."
"Every day I think about this," says Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary goalie who started in the nets for the U.S.S.R. that day. "I cannot forget it."
Twenty years ago, in the deep freeze of the Cold War, the U.S. beat the four-time defending gold medalists 4-3 in a tiny arena in a puny upstate New York town. As the Soviets remember it, the disaster actually began the day they checked into the Olympic Village, which was so wonderful it was converted into a prison after the Games. "Only one toilet for the whole floor," remembers Fetisov. If the ski team didn't wake you up at 5, the barking guard dogs would at 5:15.
Also, Tikhonov says he was ill in Lake Placid. He says his temperature was 95�, and he had to be helped to the arena each day. Maybe that explains why he did an unthinkable thing: After a soft American goal tied the game 2-2 with one second left in the first period, he pulled Tretiak and replaced him with Vladimir Myshkin for the rest of the game. He pulled Tretiak! "We could not believe this," says Sergei Makarov, a forward for the Soviet team. "We know that when Tretiak gives up a goal, he becomes double the tiger."
"I think Tikhonov wants to kill two dogs with one stone," recalls Fetisov, who played nine seasons for the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings and now is an assistant coach with the Devils. "He wants to embarrass Tretiak, and he wants to prove he can win without him."
Across the ice the Americans looked as if they'd just been told Billy The Kid had called in sick for the noon gunfight. "They were no longer skating," says Makarov, who at 31 was the 1989-90 NHL Rookie of the Year with the Calgary Flames and now lives in San Jose. "They were flying."
Suddenly, the U.S. players believed they could win. And, suddenly, they did. Mark Johnson and Mike Eruzione scored on Myshkin, and the Americans led by one with 10 minutes to play. Tikhonov, now 70 and the coach of a junior Red Army team in Moscow, concedes, "It was not wise to change goalies. This was my mistake. Why did I do it? It's difficult to say. I don't want to discuss this. I don't have any explanation for this."