Miracle on Ice

How the Miracle on Ice reunion came together

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Wayne Gretzky played a small role in inspiring Saturday’s “Relive the Miracle,” the first time all living 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey players will unite in Lake Placid since they won gold.

About one year ago, Gretzky was asked to appear at an event (not in Lake Placid) but had to decline, said Jeff Holbrook, Gretzky’s representative. So, Holbrook found replacements in 1980 U.S. Olympians Mike Ramsey and Dave Christian.

After the event, Holbrook said Ramsey asked if he could find similar opportunities for appearances. That got Holbrook thinking. Hey, the 35-year anniversary of the Miracle on Ice is coming up.

“I started putting all the pieces together,” Holbrook said Thursday while sitting inside Herb Brooks Arena, where the U.S. stunned the Soviet Union 4-3 at the 1980 Winter Games.

More about reunion during Hockey Day in America, Sunday at noon on NBC and online

Holbrook, formerly the Arizona Coyotes executive vice president, bounced thoughts off Gretzky and ran ideas up the NHL flagpole to deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Maybe they could get the team together at an NHL event, such as the Winter Classic. Or have a single NHL team take it over, such as when the Coyotes brought several players to a game last February.

Further along, Holbrook realized it would be best to do it in Lake Placid, where the 1980 Winter Olympics still live outside Main Street window displays and inside, on looped highlights around the hockey arena.

“Having them all together here means a lot more than having them all together in Rochester, or some place,” Holbrook said, conjuring one of Brooks’ lines from the 2004 film “Miracle.” “Coming here probably pushes them over the edge [to want to come], where maybe in the past they wouldn’t have.”

When all 19 living players (of 20 total) gather here Saturday, it’s believed to be their first full reunion since Brooks’ death in 2003 (forward Mark Pavelich reportedly attended the wake but not the funeral). The only other full reunion since 1980 was for an NHL All-Star weekend event in Los Angeles in 2002 (pictured).

Details of Saturday night’s ‘Relive the Miracle’ event

Arranging reunions proved so difficult that not even the honor of lighting the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic cauldron was a 20-for-20 success.

But starting last January, Holbrook began texting, emailing, calling and even meeting face to face with the 20 members of the 1980 U.S. team.

“It wasn’t as easy as sending out an email saying, ‘Do you want to come?'” he joked. “There’s a reason why it hasn’t been done in 35 years.”

In initial player conversations last spring and summer, the impetus was to do this now, while everybody is still alive.

One of the players whom Holbrook spoke with in person was defenseman Bob Suter, at an NHL playoff game last season. Suter was on board for the reunion, but he died of a heart attack in September. Suter’s jersey will be raised to the rafters to climax Saturday night.

“In a weird way, that’s why everyone is here,” said Todd Walsh, the Arizona Coyotes broadcaster who will moderate Saturday night’s chronological look back with the players before an expected crowd of about 5,000. “I think with Bob going, it’s a reminder of everyone’s mortality. That’s just my sense.”

Then there’s the reclusive Pavelich. In addition to Brooks’ funeral, he was also not present for the 2002 Olympic cauldron lighting, according to reports from Salt Lake City.

Holbrook said teammates including Buzz Schneider and John Harrington reached out to Pavelich and, importantly, stayed on him until he committed.

Pavelich was on his way to Lake Placid as of Thursday night, driving with two dogs from Oregon with a stop in Minnesota.

“I think the fact that he is coming I think pushed other guys over the edge to be here, too,” said Holbrook, managing partner of Potentia Athletic Partners. “If it wasn’t Lake Placid, I don’t know if Mark would have come.”

Holbrook, a 13-year-old playing Space Invaders when the Miracle happened, said he’s dedicated one year of his life to making the reunion happen. He also stressed help from his family, co-workers and the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) that manages the 1980 Olympic facilities.

“I’ve seen presidents of countries cower in Wayne’s presence,” Holbrook said of Gretzky. “I didn’t think I could ever see anything that elicits that sort of response from people. This is the only thing that really does, to me. When you talk about this to people, they always get the same look on their face.”

The biggest challenge of the endeavor is yet to come, Holbrook said. That’s the event Saturday night, the eve of the 35-year anniversary of the Miracle game.

“Knowing how important it is to people,” Holbrook said. “We can’t screw it up.”

Walsh, who has spent nearly two decades as a Coyotes broadcaster, has butterflies, too.

“I can’t even wrap my head around the fact that I’ll be up there,” Walsh said, looking down as workers constructed the stage on what is usually an ice rink, in his first five minutes inside Herb Brooks Arena. “I kid you not. I don’t even know what to say.”

Photos: Herb Brooks’ Miracle on Ice items up for auction

Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

Sam Mikulak
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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

April Ross, Alix Klineman
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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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