40 years since the most controversial Olympic final ever… Team USA still out to prove a point
11:32 GMT, 13 July 2012
'A shocking example of politics meddling in sport.'
That is the damning verdict from US basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski on the 40th anniversary of one of the most contentious events in Olympic history.
It is now four decades since the United States suffered its first basketball defeat in Olympic competition to the then Soviet Union.
The Cold War adversaries locked horns in the final match which took a fateful twist at the death as gold was dramatically snatched from the Americans’ grasp.
Scroll for a video feature on the 1972 Olympic basketball final
False dawn: The USA basketball team thought they'd snatched a famous victory in the 1972 Olympic final, only for the final three seconds to be replayed, during which time the USSR scored
USA led 50-49 with three seconds of the final remaining when the Soviets started their final attack.
It was unsuccessful, time ran out and the US team – made up mostly of college players – began to celebrate.
But official Renato William Jones ordered the game clock to be reset as – he claimed – only one second had been played.
The delay gave the Soviets the chance to introduce a specialist player who launched a long pass up court where the required two points were scored to snatch the gold medal.
Coach Krzyzewski said: ‘It was very unfortunate in 1972 because politics entered sport and if you’re a sportsman it’s the one pure clean field.
‘Regardless of the field you’re playing in, whether it be track, field, soccer, you would hope that nothing political would enter the field, but obviously it did in that game.'
And memories of the scandal still linger for those involved. The team to this day have still not accepted their silver medals. Some have even added a clause to their will to stop relatives from accepting them on their behalf.
Balls up: The USA have to this day refused their silver medals
But the events were later used to inspire the American team which celebrated winning gold in Beijing four years ago.
Doug Collins was a member of the US team in Germany and he spoke to the squad before they headed to China in 2008.
Collins’ account of the drama had such an impact on the players that they made a bee-line for him to celebrate after defeating Spain 118-107 in the gold medal match.
Krzyzewski said: ‘Collins spoke to our team before we went to Beijing about what happened in 1972, it was very moving.
‘It had a real impact on our guys and that’s why when we won in 2008, eight or nine of the players went over to Collins
‘He was court-side at the time, doing TV work and there was a lot of empathy for him.’
Of course the Soviet players and coaches believe the final result is legitimate and that the Americans were just being sore losers.
That accusation is refuted by Michael Bantom, the Saint Joseph’s University forward – another member of that team.
Bantom sees little chance of reconciliation and doubts the team of 1972 will ever accept their medals.
Speaking in Las Vegas as the USA
demolished the Dominican Republic 113-59 in a warm-up match, he said:
‘There’s no bitterness towards the Russians, the fault lays squarely at
the feet of the officials.
‘But there’s no chance we’ll ever go back on the decision to not take the silver. And we’re all too old an crotchety now to ever change our stance.
‘If there hadn’t been the scandal, the controversy, if we’d lost that game fair and square I would proudly wear a silver medal.
‘But it doesn’t matter if it’s one year, ten years or forty years it doesn’t make sense for me to accept the medal I don’t think I deserve.’
The America squad travel to Manchester for another practice match against Team GB on July 19 before facing Spain and Argentina in Barcelona ahead of their first Olympics pool match against France on July 29.
Making a point: Current US head coach Mike Krzyzewski stands firm against the 1972 decision
The weight of expectation bearing down on the team from a nation massively confident of winning gold is huge.
And coach Krzyzewski concedes returning home without the top prize would be a hard pill to swallow.
He said: ‘Of course, it would be a massive disappointment. But people can say whatever they want about it if we lose. If we lose, that’s it, we lost.
‘You can chronicle it any way you want, for us it would be a huge disappointment because our goal is to win the gold medal. Not because someone else want us to win the gold medal.
‘No matter what happens in London, we’re not going to leave there like we’re failures, we’re going to leave there either very happy and satisfied that we’ve accomplished our goal or extremely disappointed. We’re going there to win it.’
Great Britain men and women play the USA at the Manchester Arena on July 18 and 19. For tickets visit www.ticketmaster.co.uk or call 0844 847 8000.