Great Moments in Olympic History: #8 USSR v. USA

Eight more days! Eight more days! Did anyone see Kate Middleton visit the National Portrait Gallery this morning? She was wearing a blue Stella McCartney number and a circular necklace mimicking the Olympic rings. Love her. But I digress. We have Olympic history to attend too! Eight. More. Days!

So, America and the former Soviet Union (a.k.a. Russia) have always had a tricky relationship. There was the whole Cold War thing, and the Bay of Pigs, communism, yada yada. But it has made for some intense sporting events! And while today’s great moment isn’t exactly great (it’s actually the opposite of the 1980 USA hockey team win over Russia), it’s definitely a story that has been talked about for ages.

Number 8 on our list, America doesn’t settle for basketball silver:

The 1972 Olympic Games were held in Munich, Germany, and were also the Games where Israeli team members were taken hostage and eventually killed in the Olympic Village by a hostile Palestinian group. So, you know, already the setting for this story is dark. The USA basketball team was coming into these Games as perennial gold medal winners, and carrying a historical grudge against all things Soviet Union. The two countries eventually met in the gold medal game. Editor’s Note: I just got an email from BU that said “Red or White? You get both at BU!” It’s for an alumni wine tour, and also relates to BU’s colors, but speaking of Russians – red army? white army? What a coincidence!

Now, I’ve seen the footage, and personally it doesn’t look like the USSR team can dribble or shoot, but somehow USA found itself trailing for the majority of the game. With 3 seconds remaining on the clock, USA guard Doug Collins (father of former Duke bball player and current Duke assistant Chris Collins) was at the foul line shooting two free throws. The score was USSR 49, USA 48.

Collins sank his two shots, putting the Americans up by 1, but the buzzer erroneously sounded on the second free throw. Play did not stop, the Soviets inbounded the ball, and it’s here that shit goes awry.

With 1 second left on the game clock, USSR coach Vladimir Kondrashin (which is similar to Kardashian, so you already know you can’t trust him) began arguing that his team had called a timeout prior to Collins’ second free throw. According to Wikipedia, rules at the time stated that a coach could choose if he wanted a timeout immediately after a foul, or in between foul shots. Kondrashin claimed he elected for the later, but the timeout never came.

Officials began to argue whether play should resume with one second left on the clock, or if the entire 3 seconds after Collins’ foul shout should be replayed. And this is where things get ridiculous. While the lead referee determined that play should resume with 1 second remaining, Renato William Jones, the secretary general of the International Basketball Federation, WHO HAS NO AUTHORITY TO MAKE THESE KINDS OF DECISIONS, came out of the stands, onto the floor, and overruled everyone everywhere by determining that the entire 3 seconds should be replayed.

So, the Soviets inbound the ball again, do not get a shot off, the horn sounds and an American celebration ensues. But it’s a not so fast moment for the USA, because on this inbound play, the clock had not been correctly set, and the referee, basically having no control over this game at all, prematurely put the ball in play. Officials called for another 3 seconds to be played, and according to USA assistant John Bach, the Americans “were ordered, ‘back on the floor, or forfeit the gold medal.'” To another inbounds play we go.

On the third inbounds play, the Soviets were once again allotted the elusive 3 seconds. They throw a Grant Hill-esque pass to just underneath their basket. Made layup. Game finally over.

The Americans protested the Soviet win, and did not show up to be awarded their silver medal, which I think is unfortunate, and a decision that no country should have to make. To this day, those medals remain in a vault, unclaimed.

As I said above, this isn’t a “great” moment, so much as a monumental one, one that still gets tempers flaring. And the lesson I’ve taken from it is that things like this do not have a place at the Olympics, where the main focus should be on who’s the best, not clock malfunctions and human error.

Hopefully when we get to London we don’t see anything like this, or ever again for that matter. All hail to the athlete. These Games are about giving it everything you have, and no one can take that away from you.

Editor’s Note: Check in tomorrow for Number 7 on our list, gymnastics’ perfect ten…

#9 Abebe Bikila
#10 Wilma Rudolph


Filed under BEST Things Ever, Wide World Of Sports

7 responses to “Great Moments in Olympic History: #8 USSR v. USA

  1. Pingback: Great Moments in Olympic History: #7 Mary Lou Retton | NoMad Blogger

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