Tangible Olympic rewards for Americans have been rather mixed over the years. All in all, the teams haven't done badly, winning one bronze medal (1936), six silvers (1920, '24, '32, '52, '56 and '72) and that amazing gold in 1960.
And what of 1980? If the U.S. gets to the four-team finals, the gold medal is not an impossibility. Lake Placid is home territory, and presumably the crowd will be highly partisan. A sampling of just how effective high-spirited cheering can be was displayed at Lake Placid on the night of Oct. 7. The occasion was the fourth of the four exhibition games against NHL teams; the opponent was the Washington Capitals. The Olympians quickly fell behind 3-0. But the crowd kept roaring encouragement and the Olympians rose to the occasion. Through the second and third periods the U.S. kids came on stronger and stronger, using the large rink to outskate and outpass the Capitals, until, finally, they led 4-3 in the third period. The Capitals tied the score, but the Olympians were so inspired that they held them until the last 34 seconds, when the pros scored the winning goal.
The game was like a tonic to the team. The players felt levitated by the enthusiasm of their fans. "They made us do what we never believed we could do," says McClanahan. "We actually dominated play for two periods—that's impossible against an NHL team."
Could it happen again in February? As the NHL well knows, there is no better hockey team on earth than the one the Soviets will send to Lake Placid. So the odds, of course, are against a second gold medal. As Brooks says, "If we play the Russians, it will be strictly a David and Goliath situation."
But, hey, remember who won that one.