Call it ice irony.
Arthur Chidlovski is one of the foremost experts on Soviet hockey history and the team’s dominant reign in international competition in the 1960s and 1970s. He appeared on the NBC Sports Network’s documentary “Cold War: the 1972 Summit Series and is often called upon by television and radio shows for his expert commentary whenever the subject is Soviet hockey.
Today the 49-year-old Soviet sports historian – who was a freshman in college and living in the U.S.S.R. when Winthrop’s Mike Eruzione scored the goal heard around the world – is living in the very same town as the man who helped end the Soviet streak of gold medals in the Winter Olympics.
“I find it really ironic that with all my love of hockey and following it my whole life, I’m living in Winthrop, next door to Mike Eruzione,” said Chidlovski.
Chidlovski has not met the captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that shocked the world by upsetting the powerful Soviet team and then besting Finland in the gold medal game, setting off a national celebration. Sports Illustrated later called the U.S.A. hockey team’s achievement the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.
Chidlovski was born in Moscow and had aspirations to be an Olympic weight lifter, having been inspired by Olympic super weightlifting champion and national sports legend Vasily Alexseyev.
But he fell in love with the sport of hockey and like other children growing up in the 1970s, he became a big fan of the invincible Soviet national hockey team.
“The Soviets won the Olympics in 1972 and played Team Canada (a team loaded with NHL Stars including Phil Esposito, Brad Park, and Bobby Clarke) in the Summit Series,” recalled Chidlovski. “All of Canada was on their tiptoes watching that because they couldn’t believe that any amateur team could beat Team Canada. That series proved that the Soviets were that good and could play at the level of the NHL, the top of the world.”
Chidlovski noted that the Soviet Union won another gold medal in 1976 and maintained its perch on top of the hockey world by winning world championships in 1978 and 1979. Entering the 1980 Olympics, the Soviet Union had won four consecutive gold medals (1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976).
“If you ask Mike Eruzione, no one would deny that the Soviets were at the top of the hockey world and they were probably the most progressive team in the world,” said Chidlovski. “Even Bobby Orr said back then that we have a lot to learn from the Russians.”
Chidlovski said not only did he believe that Soviets had the best team in the world, “in my book, we had the best player in the world in Helmut Balderis, who was from Latvia.”
“The Soviets were supposed to win the gold medal in 1980 – it was a no-doubt situation,” said Chidlovski. “Nobody expected them to come back with the silver medal – that was unthinkable.”
Chidlovski’s memories of his reaction to the Soviets’ 4-3 loss to the U.S. – the game in which Eruzione scored the winning goal – are vivid.
Chidlovski said because of the time difference, he was not able to watch the U.S.-Soviet game that was broadcast live in the country. (The game was shown on videotape in the United States).
“I was a freshman in college and I came to school and this gentleman from Poland, Tomas, and said, “did you hear that the Americans just kicked your…”
“He told me that the U.S. team had won the game against the Soviet Union – I couldn’t believe it, I thought he was pulling my leg. When I found out the result, I still couldn’t believe that it happened. The reaction in Russia was one of shock. To us, they were a bunch of students, college kids, and amateurs. Now everyone knows who Mike Eruzione is. He was the captain of the U.S. hockey team that beat the Soviets.”
So how were Herb Brooks, Mike Eruzione and a team of young, amateur players able to topple the greatest team in the world?
“In the U.S. it’s called the Miracle on Ice, but in the Soviet Union, it was a lesson that you had to learn – never underestimate your opponent,” said Chidlovski. “The Soviet team was called the Big Red Machine but they were too confident. If they played ten times, the Soviets probably would’ve won nine out of ten. It just happened – it’s truly a miracle. Nobody could have imagined that the Americans would win that game.”
He understands fully why Eruzione’s goal and the U.S.A. victory brought this country together.
“Coming into the Olympics, it was not an easy time between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R,” said Chidlovski. “The Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and Team U.S.A. was boycotting the Summer Olympics in Moscow. That boycott bothered the Soviets. In 1984, the Russians boycotted the Summer Games in Los Angeles. I knew a lot of the guys who were preparing for the Olympics and because of the politics, they couldn’t go to Los Angeles.”
Childlovski said he’s looking forward to meeting Eruzione.
“I would love to meet him,” said Chidlovski. “I really don’t know what I’ll say to him. But I’ll tell you that he is a true American sports hero. It was one of the moments of truth for American culture and it resonated in the whole word. It’s one of key events in the history of sports – a Cinderella story, a miracle that nobody expected.”
(Winthrop residents can view Chidlovski’s Web site at HYPERLINK “http://www.chidlovski.com” www.chidlovski.com).