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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How Soviet Reporter Described the Miracle on Ice

SALT LAKE CITY -- The short, round Russian man made a small wager with the American on Friday, wished him well in halting English, opened his notebook and began scribbling.

On a cold February afternoon, men with hockey sticks skated up and down the ice and an anxious crowd shuffled into the Olympic arena. "Good luck," Vsevolod Kukushkin said, just like on that Friday afternoon in 1980.

Kukushkin, a correspondent for Tass, trudged out of his dilapidated motel room in Lake Placid, New York, that day. Shivering, the cherub-faced man known as Seva carried his work materials into the arena for what he thought was less a competition than a coronation.

Within a few hours, bedlam broke out. A bunch of college kids from the United States shocked the feared and once-invincible national team of the Soviet Union. On ABC, after the Americans' surreal victory, the announcer Al Michaels famously exclaimed, "Do you believe in miracles?"

Kukushkin was trying to answer his own questions after the Games' greatest upset: "How did we lose?" And, of more concern, "What am I going to write?"

This is how the news was delivered to the other side almost 22 years ago.

"I was very disappointed," Kukushkin recalled Friday, the day before the United States and Russia tied, 2-2, in the qualifying round of these Olympics. "I even lost my bet against one of the employees at the main press center that day. The man bet me a silver dollar his Americans would win. I bet him a silver ruble with the seal of the Soviet Union. ... This was a nice coin."

Of the five reporters from the official Soviet news agency assigned to the Lake Placid Games, Kukushkin is the only one who made it here to the 19th Winter Games. A few months shy of 60, he now does public-relations work for the International Ice Hockey Federation and writes for Sport-Express newspaper.

In 1980, he was a 37-year-old father of 9-year-old twins, trying to pay the bills on 130 rubles (about $300) a month. He had a dream sportswriting assignment. He was also on a deadline.

What came to be known as the Miracle on Ice was a disaster for reporters from the Soviet Union, where it was past midnight. On that late Friday afternoon in Lake Placid, Kukushkin hurried to the press center, where Tass had a teletype connection to Moscow. He said he dictated about two pages, or about 900 words, to a typist hired by the agency.

His voice rises when it is mentioned that writing for Tass must have been difficult, given the journalistic constrictions of a communist government. "Democracy and freedom did not begin in Utah," he said. "There are rules how to write for a wire service. We followed these rules. In the first sentence, I wrote like this: 'Team Russia lost to Team U.S.A. in the final round-robin today in Lake Placid, New York. Now, their chances for gold medal are very slim."'

Lost in the aftermath was that a Finnish win over the United States in the next game would have let the Soviets capture gold. But the U.S. captain, Mike Eruzione, and his teammates completed their improbable run, coming back to defeat the Finns, 4-2. "We were happy to see Finland leading and thinking maybe they can win and we can have a miracle," said Kukushkin. "But there was only one miracle at this tournament."

Not only had the Soviets beaten a team of National Hockey League All-Stars, they had blown out an outclassed United States team, 10-3, in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden the week before the Olympics.

"After we beat the U.S. in the exhibition, some players started to enjoy life," Kukushkin said. "It was practically impossible for coach Viktor Tikhonov to tune them up and motivate them. The players think this is just an easy team of college students, not a serious contender."

The Soviets actually outshot the United States, 39-16. They led by 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 before Mark Johnson's second goal of the game almost midway through the final period tied it at 3-3. The only lead for the United States came in the 50th minute of the 60-minute game, on Eruzione's goal off a screened shot. It held up for another 10 minutes, and soon the arena and the nation were awash in chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" The Soviet players, wearing bright red jerseys bearing the white letters CCCP, meekly looked down at the ice as the United States players began piling on each other and hugging after the 4-3 victory.

In a tense political climate, the game took on larger meaning. A month before the Lake Placid Games, then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States would boycott the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow in protest of Soviet military action in Afghanistan. A campaigning Ronald Reagan took a hard-line approach against "the evil empire" of the Soviet Union.

Today, Kukushkin's hair is more silver than blond. The thirty-something svelte frame is now not so svelte. "In 1980, I was 20 kilos younger," he said.

In 1994, while reporting on the Lillehammer Games, Kukushkin noticed a familiar name on the credential of a man next to him.

"Mike Eruzione," he said to the man who had also gained weight since 1980. "You are the U.S. captain from 1980?"

"That's me," said Eruzione.

"Hey, what a great team," Kukushkin said. "You did this so unexpectedly. We couldn't have expected you winning. This was incredible."

Eruzione told Kukushkin that the Soviets would have won 9 of 10 games played between the teams. "I told him I agreed with this statement," the old Tass journalist said. "Mike Eruzione then said to me, 'Hey, it happens.'"