Before I begin, I want to take a second to relay a very important lesson that I learned the hard way this weekend. DON’T GOOGLE THINGS! Unless you are prepared for the worst case scenario, do not google those little questions that pop into your head. Otherwise, you could end up finding out that the 1980 Olympics are a fraud, and that everything you know is a lie.
Alright, this title might be an over exaggeration in order to get clicks but LISTEN, the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid did not go down the way that Disney taught us they did. Like did you know that THE RUSSIANS GOT THE F******* SILVER MEDAL! No. You didn’t. Because we were told that Team USA beat the Soviet Union in the semi-finals. Which would mean that the Russians played Sweden for bronze while the USA was defeating Finland to get ourselves a gold.
Apparently, the bracket that we know, and is used by every other sport in every context ever, wasn’t used for Ice Hockey in the Olympics until 1992. Instead, the Olympic medals were decided by round robin.
So let me break this down using the 1980 Olympic games.
The tournament started the way they normally do. Two groups of 6 teams compete in a round robin and the top teams advance. Nowadays, its the top 4 teams from each group move on to the bracket play and compete for medals.
Back in 1980, the top 2 teams from each group (green) went on to compete for medals, and the 3rd best teams in each bracket (yellow) played each other in a ‘consolation’ game that meant nothing, and that I cannot figure out what the point of was despite how many wikipedia pages I dig through.
Now, we’ve been told that these top four teams; Sweden, Finland, Soviet Union, and the United States, played each other for the gold medal, and we all assumed it was in a bracket format. But that is not the case. Instead, they played in a second round robin, and the team with the best outcome would win gold, second would get silver, and third, bronze.
The scores from the USA v Sweden and Soviet Union v Finland games from the first round were counted in the second round robin. This gave the Soviet Union a head start with 2 points, Sweden and the US were tied with 1, and Finland fell behind with 0 points.
The first set of games in the second round featured Sweden vs Finland, and the famous USA vs Soviet games, that ended in an American victory and a tie between Finland and Sweden.
Now here is where it gets interesting. Disney didn’t tell us that the USA literally couldn’t NOT medal at the 1980 Olympics. Even if they lost to the Finns they would still not have the worst goal differential out of the three possible 1-1-1 teams, since Sweden still had to lose to the Soviet Union.
But they didn’t lose. They beat Finland, and the Soviet Union demolished Sweden (9-2) and the US went home with the gold, The Soviets got silver, and the Swedes won bronze due to having two ties.
Now there are two kinds of people when discussing this round robin format. There are the people like me, who hate it. You shouldn’t get a medal for having more ties. Its the Olympics, its supposed to be the best of the best from each country, you win or you lose and thats that, and thats why the bracket format is so amazing.
It forces battle, because if you can win through not winning, it creates less competition and less drive, and a greater sense of complacency at the end of games rather than a fight till the finish, or the thrill of overtime. We would have never had Sidney Crosby’s ‘Golden Goal’ in Vancouver or Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s shootout winner in Pyeongchang, without the bracket format that demands a winner.
The other side of the argument, that agrees with the pre-1992 medal distribution method, thinks that the round robin creates a more definitive idea of who is better than who because every team plays every other team in the medal round. There is no bronze winner, who didn’t play the gold medalist, and then thinks they could have possibly been the better team. That it creates a more ‘fair’ competition.
No matter what side of the debate you are on, I think we can all agree on one thing, there is no hockey like Olympic hockey.
Header from CBS
Infographics from Wikipedia