The year 1980 was one of America’s highest points and one of its lowest. I was fortunate to participate in the former: At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, I helped lead the United States hockey team to a gold medal. No one thought we stood a chance; when we defeated the Soviet Union in the semi-finals and triumphed over Finland for the gold, people called it a “miracle.”
That “miracle” came just before the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. To this day, it upsets me and many other Olympians that, only months after our Winter Games victory, our Summer Olympic brethren didn’t get their chance to compete.
So I offer both advice and an appeal to those considering a U.S. boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games: Don’t do it. If America boycotts, we will ruin the dreams of hundreds of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and we will hand China and other countries victories we could win in competition.
Beat them on their home turf
Remember: Just like my team didn’t select Lake Placid as the site of the 1980 Olympic Games, the athletes training for next year’s games didn’t choose Beijing. Similarly, my 1980 Summer Olympics counterparts didn’t pick Moscow, and they didn’t have a say when the government pushed for a boycott.
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Many of the 1980 Summer Olympic athletes spent decades training, only to have their dreams dashed in a matter of weeks when the boycott went into effect. Here’s what was especially tough: A number of Americans were poised to win gold medals in 1980 in Moscow. They never got that chance, and that missed opportunity haunted them for years.
I was lucky: My Olympics were held in America. When we took to the ice, the Soviet Union was on our turf. And when we beat them, the world paid attention. Many people have shared with me how much that moment meant to them. I’m grateful if it did; as an Olympian, that means a lot.
But I felt gratitude as well: When my skates hit the ice, I knew America was behind us. Every single Olympian feels that pride, and it’s what makes the Olympics special. It’s the one sporting event in which our whole country roots for the same jersey. When new generations of Olympians walk into the opening ceremony, I feel right there with them — and so does the rest of our nation.
Americans wear the same jersey
That support matters to Olympians, and especially right now. The 2022 Winter Games athletes are less than a year away from an event that’s shaped their entire lives. They’re waking up early, putting in countless hours of preparation, and setting aside everything else to compete on America’s behalf. It’s hard enough to do that without wondering if you’ll get to compete at all.
A final thought: When our hockey team defeated the Soviet Union, people commented on what it said about America that a group of amateur hockey players defeated a government-backed, professional Soviet hockey team. This upcoming Olympics are similar: Many American athletes train on their own, supported by their own resources and coaches. And they often compete against athletes from around the world whose governments fund (and force) training.
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Given those circumstances, what better message can we send to the world than the one we’ve sent for decades: American athletes standing on the podium, earning medals, and winning not because a government demanded it, but because an athlete aspired to it. That’s what the “Miracle on Ice” meant to me and to many others, and I’d urge us to give today’s Olympians a chance at similar miracles.
Mike Eruzione was the captain of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team that won the gold medal in Lake Placid, New York. He is director of special outreach at his alma mater, Boston University, and lives in Winthrop, Massachusetts, with his family.