WORLD FOCUS: There was also a Chinese miracle on ice in 1980
Nanci Bond of Williamsburg, Virginia, is an aficionado of figure skating. She can tell you when an axel jump was perfect, a Waltz jump not adequate, or a toe loop only so-so.
Whenever an important international competition is taking place and is broadcast on TV, she brings it to my attention. After all, my wife, and I lived in Lake Placid, known as the winter sports capital of the United States, the site of two Winter Olympics and the training ground of many U.S. figure skaters who became Olympic champions.
What made Lake Placid so well-known across the country is the “Miracle on Ice” hockey game. The American team, consisting mostly of college students, defeated the seemingly unbeatable Soviet team of professional players and won the gold medal during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.
That Olympic event, however, also produced a little-known, Chinese “miracle on ice,” benefiting the Chinese figure skaters.
The 1980 games were the first time since 1952 that China had participated in the Olympics. The Chinese Olympic delegation’s conduct at the 1980 Winter Olympics broke ground for Beijing to be selected by the International Olympic Committee as the site of the 2008 Olympic Summer Games.
This was a major goal of China and He Zhenliang, the president of the Chinese Olympic Committee who led the Chinese delegation at the 1980 Winter Games and was instrumental in securing the Olympics for China.
Another factor was the widely admired public relations skills of Mike Holtzman, a graduate of William & Mary College in Williamsburg. He was in charge of worldwide publicity campaign on behalf of China’s quest to host the Olympics.
Mr. He embraced the offer of the 1980 Olympic People-for-People Program of hosting Olympic athletes from around the world, including the Chinese athletes, by local American families. One visit turned into a festive occasion full of warmth and friendship. The international news media was out in full force to cover the event.
The encounter between the Chinese athletes and the American family received worldwide coverage. Beamed back to Beijing, the TV pictures provided a rare live image of an American home that included a canopied colonial bed, his and her bathrooms and a kitchen full of the latest gadgets.
What made the Chinese Olympic athletes’ participation in the 1980 Winter Olympics so meaningful was summed up by the general secretary of the Chinese Olympic Committee, He Zhenliang.
“Our main purpose in being here at the Winter Olympics,” he told me in an interview with the Lake Placid News, “is not win medals but that our athletes could gain experience and that we can develop friendship and mutual understanding,”
Indeed, the Chinese figure skaters’ performance was woefully inadequate. A top American coach observing them performing offered to provide, free of charge, instruction to one of the most talented Chinese figure skaters With the help of an interpreter, he was given much needed advice.
The Chinese athlete said, “How much I would like to share your words with my fellow figure skaters at home.”
When the Olympic People-for-People Program learned about this, as a gesture of friendship it presented the Chinese athlete with the latest model tape recorder. The athlete took the tapes back to Beijing.
Since then, Chinese figure skaters have achieved world renown — competing successfully against top Russian and American figure skaters, often against such athletes as Nathan Chen, American-born, but of Chinese parentage.
It is hard to say how much role that Lake Placid encounter played in the development of the Chinese figure skating sport. A velvet box containing three gold medals, on display at the Adirondack Experience museum at Blue Mountain Lake, however, attest to it that the Chinese Olympic Committee valued highly the help that was provided in Lake Placid, to the Chinese figure skaters.
(Frank Shatz is a former Lake Placid resident and currently lives in Williamsburg, Virginia. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” a compilation of his selected columns.)