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Marjorie Cortez: No 'miracle' this year, but Russia still talking trash

Monday was the 30th anniversary of the "Miracle on Ice." If that predates you, or you're not a student of sports, I'm referring to the United States' improbable defeat of the Soviet Union in men's hockey during the 1980 Winter Games at Lake Placid, N.Y.

As a child of the Cold War, the video and still images of that iconic event bring back a flood of memories. Until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the United States had a deep distrust of the other world superpower, the Soviet Union. The Communist U.S.S.R. had a huge defense arsenal, including thousands of nuclear warheads. We feared they would wipe us off the map, although we were equally equipped — if not more so — to do the same to them.

For more than four decades, the two world superpowers observed this standoff. It was far easier to hate one another than to make an attempt to understand one another.

At the time, then-President Jimmy Carter was contemplating a boycott of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. His Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, went so far as to denounce the Soviet Games during a meeting of the International Olympic Committee about two weeks before the United States and U.S.S.R. met in the medal round.

Suffice it to say, this was not a typical hockey game.

I still get pangs of Cold War angst when I see video or still images of the Soviet team in their red uniforms marked simply CCCP, the Russian acronym for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was a different world then. We could readily identify our friends and enemies around the globe. Mainstream Americans could not conceive of the concept of rogue actors independently carrying out acts of terror. In some ways, the world made a lot more sense to me then, although I do not want to go back to those days.

But winning that game was far more than an athletic feat. It was a political statement. It was a moment of profound national pride.

Perhaps the anniversary of the "miracle" got me going, but I find I'm having cold feelings toward a couple of Russian athletes in the 2010 Games. For what it's worth, I do not believe they are representative of their fellow countrymen and countrywomen.

Take trash-talking Evgeni Plushenko, who openly boasted that winning the gold medal essentially required being able to perform a quadruple jump in the men's ice skating competition. Plushenko, of course, is the only competitor who can consistently land such a jump. In the end, the United States' Evan Lysacek, who skated an outstanding free program, was awarded the gold medal. Russians are seething over Plushenko's second-place finish.

Then there's the tone-deaf Russian couple in the ice dancing competition. In Sunday night's original dance contest, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin dressed as Australian aborigines to perform a primitive ice dance routine, which ended with them rubbing noses. Their dress was reportedly toned down after complaints by Australian aboriginal leaders. Really?

Prior to the start of competition, Domnina and Shabalin met with representatives of Canada's Four Host First Nations to discuss similar concerns. The respective camps talked and exchanged gifts in an attempt to smooth over matters.

Friday night, following their appearance in the compulsory dance, Domnina and Shabalin draped themselves in the red, black and white blankets given to them by tribal leaders, and they went ahead with their (albeit toned down) aboriginal dance routine on Sunday night.

And perhaps it was too late in their preparations to switch routines. I don't pretend to know all the ins and outs of ice dancing.

But I do know the likes of Plushenko, Domnina and Shabalin make it hard for me to shed the last remnants of my Cold War sensibilities. I mean, where's that lovable Mikhail Gorbachev when I need him?

Marjorie Cortez, who is attempting to rehabilitate her "ugly American" proclivities, is a Deseret News editorial writer. E-mail her at marjorie@desnews.com.