Meeting My First Olympian

Numerous stories and films have been written and produced about the 1980 US Men’s Olympic hockey team that have glorified what is one of the best underdog stories in sports. Books and the film Miracle have all depicted how head coach Herb Brooks lead a group of college players into Lake Placid and upset one of the most dominant teams in history, the Soviet Union. The team has earned its history as being one of the best stories and the legendary story has lived on for over 30 years.

The story behind the team from 1980 is truly incredible and the legend will live on forever. I personally have not met a single person who played on that team from 1980 but the first Olympian I ever met in person played on the US Men’s hockey team twenty years before the miracle in 1960. Not much is published and mentioned about the 1960 team who won gold in Squaw Valley, California but I will never forget meeting one of the players from that team.

The event was a Cleveland hockey history day at the Western Reserve Historical Society and numerous players who had played for the various teams in Cleveland or in the NHL were there. Parma native Dan Fritsche, who was playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets at the time, was there and former NHL star Brian Holzinger was seated at the table next to him. Former Barons and Crusaders players such as Howie Glover, Bill Needham, and Wayne Muloin also were at the table with former Lumberjacks players Jock Callandar and Perry Ganchar.

As I went through the line getting autographs, the last person at the table was someone I did not recognize right away. I was trying to figure out who this gentleman was and I couldn’t help but notice a big smile on this person’s face. This old player was happy to be telling numerous stories as he was signing autographs and I finally was able to see his nametag below:


Right next to his name tag was a picture of him wearing a team USA sweater and skating on the ice. The description at the bottom of the photo mentioned he won gold in Squaw Valley and I couldn’t help but get goosebumps.

Olson was fun to talk to and I remember speaking with him for a good five minutes as he signed a picture for me. I don’t know how old he was at the time but his memory was so clear and he could relate every detail from the 1960 games in Squaw Valley. He didn’t mention too much about Herb Brooks, who was cut from the 1960 team a week before the games, but talked about how he and his teammates had an incredible time at the games.

This man was passionate about the sport and there was no ego in his voice. It was clear how much it meant to him to play for his country well before NHL players took the ice in the Olympics. He never mentioned wanting glory or fame; he was happy to play the sport he loved on the biggest stage possible. Olson never graced NHL ice during his playing days but playing in the Olympics and winning gold for his country was clearly a victory for him.

Each time the Olympics rolls around, I can’t help but think of Olson’s kindness and passion for the sport and his country. Olson is a clear example how meaningful it was to play for your country in the Olympics long before athletes got endorsements, TV commercials and professional dollars for their work. Olson lived his dream and has passed that passion along for a very long time.



~ by jeffrsabo on August 18, 2012.

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