The amazing Us hockey triumph at the Winter Olympics capped a sports year that also featured Eric Heiden's individual brilliance at those same Lake Placid Games, the historic Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe tennis duels, George Brett's dramatic bid to hit .400, and the exciting drive of the Philadelphia Phillies to their first-ever World Series victory.
Other highlights included Jack Nicklaus's golfing comeback; another Super Bowl triumph for the Pittsburgh Steelers; Genuine Risk becoming the first filly since 1915 to win the Kentucky Derby; Roberto Duran's victory over Sugar Ray Leonard in their epic first encounter; the emergence of standout pro basketball rookies Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and the New York Islanders winning the Stanley Cup.
Meanwhile, continuing the theme of the 1970s, the new decade began with more than its share of off-the-field controversies. Player salaries continued to escalate; major league baseball endured a brief strike during spring training and barely avoided another in the regular season; disclosures of drug usage cropped up with disturbing frequency, particularly among pro basketball and baseball players; academic and recruiting scandals rocked the college scene; and in the most hotly-debated and far-reaching issue of all, the United States and several other nations boycotted the Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.
In any Olympic year, of course, the actual competition in the games plus the inevitable political fighting combine to produce many of the top stories -- and 1980 was certainly no exception, as the following capsule summaries of these and the year's other major sports happening s clearly show.
WINTER OLYMPICS -- The first Games held in the United States since 1932 got off to a shaky start. The problems of staging a modern Olympics in such a tiny town became evident, especially in the repeated transportation breakdowns. And the US team fell behind most predictions -- except, of course, for Heiden. The powerful young skater from Madison Wis., had been expected to do well, but not even his staunchest supporters dreamed he could summon up the combinition of speed and stamina to sweep an entire slate of races ranging from 500 to 10,000 meters, becoming the first competitor to win five individual gold medals in either the Winter or the Summer Games.
Heiden's sister, Beth, won a bronze in the women's 3,000, while Leah Poulos Mueller took silvers in both sprints, giving the United States eight speed skating medals. Elsewhere, though, things looked less promising for the Americans most of the way until a burst of success in the final weekend.
Phil Mahre won a silver medal in the giant slalom to match the best US performance ever in men's Alpine skiing, though as usual the Europeans dominated overall, with Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden winning the slalom and giant slalom while Austria's Leonhard Stock took the downhill. Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria climaxed her storied career by winning the women's downhill, while Hanni Wenzel of tiny Liechtenstein finished second in that race and won the slalom and giant slalom.
In figure skating, Great Britain's Robin Cousins and East Germany's Annet Poetzsh won the men's and women's golds respectively, while the US continent had less success than had been anticipated. The big disappointment came in the pairs event, where world champions Randy Gardner and tai Babilonia had to withdraw because of injury, cancelling out their much-ballyhooed showdown with the Soviet pair of Irina Rodnina and Aleksandr Zaitsev, who went on to easily capture their second straight Olympic championship.
But finally, of course, there was the incredible hockey triumph, which sent an entire nation into euphoria while totally overshadowing everything else that happened in the entire two weeks -- or for that matter the whole year.
The young US team made up largely of recent collegians had trained together longer than previous American squads thanks to a new interpretation of eligibility rules, and appeared to have an outside chance for a medal despite tough competition from Canada, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and Finland. But gold seemed out of the question for anyone except the mighty Soviet team, which was going for its fifth consecutive Olympic championship.
For dreamers, there was the memory of 1960, when another group of young Americans had upset a favored USSR team. But that was only the dawn of Soviet dominance in international hockey; by now the Big Red Machine was so strong that even the NHL All-Stars couldn't stop it in the previous year's Challenge Cup in New York.
A few days before the Olympics, the Soviets routed the US team 10-3 in an exhibition game, and in the Games they outscored their first three foes by a combined 41-5. The Americans had to battle much harder for their victories, and just stayed alive via a last-minute goal for a 2-2 tie with Sweden. But they arose to the occasion in the showdown before a wildly partisan crowd at the Olympic Ice Arena.
Twice in the first period the Soviet took the lead, but both times the Americans fought back to tie the score, first via a 50-foot shot by Buzz Schneider, then on a morale lifting goal by Mark Johnson with one second left on the clock. Early in the second period the USSR went ahead again, 3-2, and that's the way it stayed until midway through the final period, as only the spectacular goaltending of Jim Craig kept the US team in the game. With 10 minutes to go, Johnson scored again to tie it, and less than two minutes later, with the whole place still in total bedlam, Captain Mike Eruzione drilled the puck home from a scramble in front to make it 4-3. It still wasn't over, but Craig and his teammates held on to the end against the desperately attacking Soviets to forge one of the greatest upsets in the history of the Games.
There was still one more game to go, against Finland, and the spectre of a letdown were too fired up for that to happen, however, and although they again fell behind twice, they stormed back to win the game 4-2 and the gold medal.
There was still one more game to go, against Finland, and the spectre of a letdown thta could undo this whole great moment. The Americans were too fired up for that to happen, however, and although they again fell behind twice, they stormed back to win the game 4-2 and the gold medal.
The medal race, as usual, was strictly a two-nation duel between the USSR and East Germany. The Soviets won 10-9 in terms of gold, but lost to their smaller neighbors overall, 23-22. The United States was third with 6 golds, 4 silvers, and 2 bronzes -- exactly matching its best previous showing in 1932 when the Winter Games also were held in Lake Placid.
SUMMER OLYMPICS -- The boycott diminished the Moscow Games, which had once promised to be among the greatest Olympics ever, but even with the United States , West Germany, Japan, and many smaller countries absent, there was still plenty of intense, high-caliber competition.
The "Battle of Britain" between record-breaking middle distance rivals Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe got most of the pre-Olympic publicity, and although the times were nothing special, the races themselves certainly lived up to their advance billing in terms of drama and emotion. Ovett surprised observers with an easy victory in the 800, but Coe turned the tables with a stirring triumph in the 1,500. And while the Britishers were turning their showdown into a standoff , little Miruts Yifter of Ethiopia stole the limelight by winning the 5,000 and 10,000 with his patented last-lap kicks.
East Germany's Waldemar Cierpinski matched Abebe Bikila's historic 1960-64 feat of winning the marathon twice in a row; pole vaulter Wladysaw Kozakiewicz of Poland and high jumper Gerd Wessig of East Germany st world records; and joining Ovett and Coe to make it one of Great Britain's biggest successes were decathlon winner Delay Thompson and sprinter Allan Wells, who won the 100 and was just nipped by Italy's Pierto Mennea in the 200.
Alexander Dityatin dominated men's gymnastics with eight medals (3 gold, 4 silver, 1 bronze), the most ever by any competitor in any sport, but his achievement lost some luster due to the absence of the perennially strong Japanese and a higly regarded US team led by Kurt Thomas. In women's gymnastics , Yelena Davydova of the host nation wrested the all-around title from Montreal heroine Nadia Comaneci via some close and controversial scoring, but Nadia won the balance beam event and tied for first in the floor exercises to emerge as the only double gold medal winner.
Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson became the first three-time heavyweight gold medalist. But another heavy favorite --settle for third place as YUgoslavia won the gold.
The swimming went as expected with East Germany dominating the women's events , while the Soviets took the lion's share of men's medals. The big individual star was Vladimir Salnikov of the USSR, winning three golds and breaking the 15 -minute barrier for the 1,500 meters.
The USSR dominated the medal race with 80 golds and 195 overall, while East Germany was second with 47 and 125.
BASEBALL -- Three exciting pennant races plus Brett's bid to be the first . 400 hitter since 1941 highlighted the regular season. Kansas City ran away with the American League West championship, but all othe races went down to the wire. In the AL East, it was the last week before New York clinched its fourth title in five years. In the National League East, it was the final weekened before Philadelphia won two straight at Montreal to beat out the Expos. And in the NL West it took a one-game playoff for Houston to attain the first championship in the 19-year history of its franchise.
In the AL playoffs, Kansas City atoned for its 1976-77-78 losses to New York by defeating the Yankees in three straight games to win its first pennant.
It was the NL playoffs, however, that produced sustained excitement and drama to an extent seldom if ever matched in any post-season series. Four of the five games went extra innings, and Philadelphia came from behind at least once in each of its victories to finally win out three games to two.
In a somewhat anti-climatic but still exciting World Series, slugger Mike Schmidt and relief ace Tug McGraw led the Phillies to victory, 4 games to 2.
Individually, the big story of the season was Brett, who got hot in midsummer , raised his batting average over .400, and took aim at being the first plyaer to finish there since Ted Williams in 1941. He didn't make it, but his .390 finish was still the highest in either league since Williams's feat, and he was an overwhelming choice as the AL's Most Valuable Player. Schmidt, who led the majors with 48 home runs, was a unanimous selection for corresponding NL honors and also was named the World Series MVP. Cy Young Awards went to 25-game winner Steve Stone of Baltimore and to Steve Carlton, who won 24 for the Phillies during the regular season plus one in the playoffs and two more in the World Series. Hall of Fame electees for 1980 were long-time Detroit outfield star Al Kaline and Duke Snider, the standout centerfielder and slugger for the Brooklyn Dogers of the '50s. In Japan, Sadaharu Oh, whose 868 career home runs outdid either Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron, retired after a 22-year career.
PRO FOOTBALL -- Pittsburgh, extending its dynasty of the 1970s into the first year of the new decade, defeated Los Angeles 31-19 to win a second straight Super Bowl and fourth in six years. the underdog Rams led 19-17 in the fourth priod before Pittsburgh's superior firepower finally wore them down. Terry Bradshaw hit John Stallworth on a 73-yard pass play for the go-ahead touchdown, and the same combination connected on a 45-yarder to set up an insurance score.
The Steelers wonht get a chance to seek a record-breaking third straight Super Bowl triumph, however. They struggeled through the 1980 season, finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.
The Cinderella stories this year were written in Buffalo and Atlanta, where young teams coming off losing seaons surprised the experts by winning their respective division titles. The Falcons reeled off nine straight victories late in the season and won the NFC West title with a 12-4 slate. But perhaps an even bigger surprise was Buffalo. Consigned by many forecasters to last place in the supposedly tough AFC East, the Bills instead marched to an 11-5 season and first place behind the passing of veteran quarterback Joe Ferguson and the running of rookie sensation Joe Cribbs.
Philadelphia and Dallas tied Atlanta for the best regular season record, while other playoff teams were Minnesota, Cleveland, San Diego, Los Angeles, Houston, and Oakland.
Earl Campbell won his third straight rushing title with 1,934 yards, while Brian Sipe threw for 4,132 yards and 30 TDs and was rated the top passer. No. 1 draft choice Billy Sims from Oklahoma gained 1,303 yards in his rookie season and helped lift Detroit to playoff contention.
PRO BASKETBALL -- With Johnson providing the spark and Kareem swept through a 60-22 regular season and continued on to win the NBA championship in the playoffs. The climax came in a dream final against Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers, and even an injury which sidelined Abdul-Jabbar in the sixth game couldn't stop the Lakers. Kareem was voted the league's Most Valuable Player for the sixth time, Johnson was the playoff MVP, George Gervin of San antonio was the scoring leade with a 33.1 points per game average, and Bird beat out Johnson for Rookie-of-the-Year honors on the basis of his great season-long performance and its effect in bringing Boston back from the doldrums to post the best regular season record at 61-21.
HOCKEY -- Philadelphia compiled a 35-game unbeaten streak, longest in pro sports history, and finished with the National Hockey League's best won-lost record. In the playoffs, however, it was the New York Islanders who atoned for previous post-season failures by defeating the Flyers in six games to win their first Stanley Cup. MVPs were Islander Center Brian Trottier in the playoffs and Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky for the regular season, while Marcel Dionne of Los Angeles took scoring honors with 137 points.
TENNIS -- Borg and McEnroe dominated the year with their epic duels in London and New York. The indomitable Swede fought back from what looked at times like certain defeat to conquer his young American foe 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18 in the tiebreaker), 8-6 in one of the all-time Wimbledon finals, thereby adding to his own amazing record by winning the game's foremost tournament for the fifth year in a row. Two months later these same two met in the final again at the US Open -- and once more it was five sets of incredibly tense and exciting tennis. This time, though, the outcome was different, as defending champ McEnroe won a 7 -6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4 thriller to continue Borg's series of frustrations in quest of this one big prize that has always eluded him.
Jimmy Connors won the World Championship Tennis and US Pro Indoor titles, staged his own epic duel with McEnroe in a five-seat US Open semifinal which was in some ways more dramatic than the final, and finished third in the money list behind McEnroe ($602,383) and Borg.
Among the women, Chris Evert Lloyd won the US, French, and Italian Opens and Martina Navratilova topped the money list $615,800), while Evonne Goolagong captured her second Wimbledon title.
GOLF -- Nicklaus's triumphs in the US open and PGA tournaments after nearly two years of frustration were the big sentimental stories, but for the fourth year in a row it was Tom Watson who emerged as the top overall player. Watson won the British Open plus six tour tournaments including the World Series of Golf and topped the money list by a wide margin with earnings of $530,808.
Severiano Ballesteros of Spain won the Masters, then Nicklaus took center stage in the US Open. Playing at Baltusrol in New Jersey where he had won the 1967 Open, Jack ended speculation that he had seen his last moment of glofy by not only winning but breaking his own Open record with an 8-under-par 272. Two months later he added the 19th major title of his career by winning the PGA as well.
Beth Daniel led the women in earnings with $231,000, Amy Alcott won the US Open, and Sally Little the LPGA title.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL -- Alabama defeated Arkansas 24-9 in the Sugar Bowl to finish 12-0 for the only perfect season among the major schools and undisputed No. 1 recognition in both wire service polls. For 1980, however, it was a Georgia team led by freshman running back Herschel Walker that posted the only such unblemished regular season mark (11-0) and headed into the bowl games at the top of the polls. Running back George Rogers of South Carolina won the Heisman Trophy as year's top player.
MISCELLANEOUS -- GEnuine Risk was the big thoroughbred racing story, winning the Derby and finishing second in the Preakness and Belmont . . . DePaul dominated college basketball's regular season but was upset in the NCAA playoffs by UCLA, which in turn lost in the finals to a Louisville team led by Player of the Year Darrell Griffith . . . In boxing, the first welterweight title fight between Duran and Leonard was one of the year's big media events -- and it live up to its billing as Duran won a 15-round decision. The rematch was a dud, however, with Leonard regaining the crown when Duran quit in the eighth round. In another sorry spectacle, Muhammad Ali came out of retirement but was ineffective in losing to Larry Holmes . . . Johnny Rutherford won his third Indianapolis 500, while Alan Jones took Grand Prix honors . . . The New York cosmos regained the North American Soccer League title via 3-0 victory over Fort Lauderdale . . . In track and field, Ovett lowered the world mile record to 3: 48.8 in a pre-Olympic meet, and Mary Decker set a new women's world record for the distance of 4:21.68 . . . Bill Rodgers won his fourth Boston Marathon but failed in his bid for a fifth New York title, finishing fifth as Alberto Salazar won in 2:09.41. Norway's Grete Waitz again won women's honors at New York in 2: 25,42 breaking her own world record . . . Freedom, skippered by Dennis conner, successfully defended America's Cup by defeating Australia, 4-1.