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Russia–United States sports rivalries

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Russia–United States relations
Map indicating locations of Russia and USA


United States

Russia (in all its incarnations) and the United States have won more Olympic medals than any other nation.[1] Russia topped the overall medal count at 7 Summer Olympics and 9 Winter Olympics, while the United States placed first at 17 Summer Olympics and 1 Winter Olympics. The countries developed a strong rivalry during the Cold War, and while the tensions eased in the 1990s, the relations deteriorated in 2014 and 2016, and the rivalry became even more heated.[2]

Since 1952, Russia has won 1912 Summer and Winter Olympics medals, the most in that period, while the United States has won 1872 medals, the second most in that period. Detailed comparison is presented below.

Summer Olympics[edit]

Medal totals of the Soviet Union/Unified Team/Russia[3][4][5] and the United States[6] since 1952, when the Soviet Union started to compete.

Overall, the United States (1896–1976, 1984–present) has won 1,022 gold and 2,522 total medals, and Russia (1900, 1908–1912, 1952—1980, 1988–present) has won 589 gold and 1,556 total medals.

Winter Olympics[edit]

Medal totals of the Soviet Union/Unified Team/Russia/Olympic Athletes from Russia[3][4][5] and the United States[6] since 1956, when the Soviet Union started to compete.

Overall, the United States (1924–present) has won 105 gold and 305 total medals, and Russia (1956–present) has won 136 gold and 354 total medals.



File:USA USSR 1972 basketball match.jpeg
(On the left) American players celebrating their apparent victory only to be told that the final three seconds of the game would be replayed for the third time. (On the right) Soviet players scoring after the final three seconds were replayed for the third time.

The United States and Soviet Union sporting adversary reached its peak during the Cold war. The U.S. men's team was considered a favorite in the run-up to the 1972 Games. Since the first Olympic basketball tournament at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the Americans haven't lost a single game, winning seven consecutive gold medals in a dominating fashion. Their record reached an unprecedented 63-0 before the final game. Since the 1952 tournament the Soviet team challenged the Americans, winning silver in 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964 and bronze in 1968. Outside of the Olympics, the Soviets had already defeated the U.S. team in the World Championship play. However, the Americans never sent their best collegiate players in that tournament.

It is important to note that the Olympics strictly prohibited any involvement of professional athletes at the time. The Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries used that rule to their advantage, listing all its top players as soldiers or workers what allowed them to breach the amateur rules. Western experts classified these athletes as professionals.[7] On the other hand, leading American players were unable to play in the Olympics as they were officially professional and played in the NBA. That disadvantage hadn't prevented the Americans from winning the first seven Olympic basketball tournaments without a single defeat.

The confrontation of the Soviet Union and United States on the basketball court was deeply connected to the confrontation on the political front. Many American viewers assumed that 1972 Games were openly anti-American.[8] There were rumors that the Communist party had bribed the officials because they wanted the USSR to win 50 gold medals at these Olympics in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union.[9]

The United States team was the youngest in history. American players usually participated in the Olympics once before turning pro, and the U.S. team always had new players every four years. The 1972 team didn't have a clear leader. A rising star Bill Walton declined an invitation to participate. Nevertheless, the team was heavily favored featuring such players as Doug Collins or Tommy Burleson (the tallest player among all teams).

The young American team was confronted by a veteran Soviet team, featuring stars Sergei Belov, Modestas Paulauskas, and Alexander Belov. The players had played together for more than seven years. For Gennadi Volnov it was the fourth Olympic appearance.

The Soviets performed strongly at the beginning, winning the first half 26:21. The Soviets kept the Americans 4–8 points behind during the first half.

In the second half Soviets targeted Dwight Jones, as they considered him the leader of the U.S. team. On the 28th minute he was provoked by Mikheil Korkia and responded. Both players were sent off. The Soviets were satisfied, as they deemed Korkia less significant for them than Jones for the Americans. The next minute Alexander Belov hit Jim Brewer during the free-throw, and Brewer was unable to continue playing. According to the Americans, the referees did not notice the foul.

With 10 minutes left, the Soviets increased their lead to 10 points. After that Americans finally started to press the Soviets. It helped them to cut the deficit to 1 point. Soviet players started to feel nervous. With less than a minute left, Doug Collins stole a Soviet pass at halfcourt and was fouled hard by Zurab Sakandelidze as he drove toward the basket, being knocked down into the basket stanchion. With three seconds remaining on the game clock, Collins was awarded two free throws and sank the first to tie the score at 49. Just as Collins lifted the ball to begin his shooting motion in attempting the second free throw, the horn from the scorer's table sounded, marking the beginning of a chain of events that left the game's final three seconds mired in controversy. Although the unexpected sound of the horn caused lead referee Renato Righetto to turn away from the free throw attempt and look over to the scorer's table, play was not stopped. Collins never broke his shooting motion and continued with his second free throw, scoring to put the U.S. ahead by a score of 50:49. Immediately following Collins' free throws, the Soviets inbounded the ball and failed to score. Soviet coaches claimed that they had requested a timeout before Collins' foul shots. The referees ordered the clock reset to three seconds and the game's final seconds replayed. The horn sounded as a length-of-the-court Soviet pass was being released from the inbounding player, the pass missed its mark, and the American players began celebrating. Nevertheless, final three seconds were replayed for a third time. This time, the Soviets' Alexander Belov and the USA's Kevin Joyce and Jim Forbes went up for the pass, and Belov caught the long pass from Ivan Edeshko near the American basket. Belov then laid the ball in for the winning points as the buzzer sounded.

The Americans regained the basketball crown in 1976, but their ability to stay competitive with college players against seasoned professionals from the Soviet Union was decreasing. In 1988, the Soviets beat the United States once again, eliminating them in the semifinals. That game was a turning point in international basketball, as FIBA officials started to realize that amateur rules were extremely unfair. In 1989, NBA players were finally allowed in the Olympics.

Ice hockey[edit]

The 1980 hockey game between the U.S. and USSR was dubbed the "Miracle on Ice", when American college players defeated the heavily favored seasoned professionals from the Soviet Union on the way to a gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. The Soviet Union had won the gold medal in five of the six previous Winter Olympic Games, and were the favorites to win once more. Though ice hockey is not a major sport in most areas of the United States, the "Miracle" is often listed as one of the all-time greatest American sporting achievements. The U.S. also won the gold medal in the 1960 Games at Squaw Valley, California, defeating the Soviet Union, Canada, Czechoslovakia, and Sweden along the way. However, since this victory is not as well known as the 1980 win, it has come to be known as the "Forgotten Miracle".[10][11]

The U.S. and the Soviet Union next met at the Olympics in 1988. As in 1980, the Soviets were represented by their star-studded veterans, while the Americans fielded a team of college players. The Soviets won the encounter 7–5 and went on to win the gold medal, while the U.S. placed seventh.

The two teams met again at the 1992 Olympics in a semi-final match. There, the Unified Team (the successor to the Soviet Union) won 5–2. While some stars had left the Soviet Union to play in the NHL, the Unified Team still boasted many veterans from their domestic professional league, while the Americans were represented primarily by college players. The Unified Team eventually won the gold medal, while the U.S. placed fourth.

The U.S. and Russia (the successor to the Unified Team) met twice at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. The Americans won both games 5-2 en route to the tournament championship.

The U.S., coached by Herb Brooks, and Russia, coached by Slava Fetisov, met twice in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which included a 2–2 round-robin draw and a 3–2 semi-final win for the Americans. The semi-final match was played 22 years to the day after the "Miracle on Ice" game.[12] The U.S. eventually won silver, while Russia won bronze.

The two teams met in the quarterfinals of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, with the U.S. earning a decisive 5-3 victory.

The U.S. and Russia played each other in a round-robin game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The game was tied 2–2 after overtime before the Americans prevailed in an eight-round shootout, with T.J. Oshie scoring on 4 of 6 attempts for the United States. The match has been dubbed by some as the "Marathon on Ice" due to its length.[13] Both teams, however, failed to medal; the Americans finished fourth, while the Russians placed fifth.




  1. "All-time Summer Olympics medals table 1896-2016 | Statistic". Statista.
  2. "USA Men's Team Vs. Russia Was About More Than Just Hockey". Time.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Olympic History of Soviet Union". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Olympic History of Unified Team". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Olympic History of Russia". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Olympic History of United States". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com.
  7. "Classic 1972 USA vs. USSR Basketball game". ESPN. August 6, 2004. Retrieved April 13, 2009.
  8. By Frank Saraceno. Classic 1972 USA vs. USSR Basketball game. // espn.go.com (August 6, 2004)
  9. Chris Elzey (American Studies Purdue University). «03 Seconds From Gold» (2002). «Journal of Sports History» (vol 29, issue 3, page 518—522) // la84foundation.org
  10. Burnside, Scott (February 8, 2010). "Hockey's miracle before the 'Miracle'". ESPN. Retrieved October 7, 2011.
  11. "The Morning Skate: The Forgotten Miracle of 1960". The New York Times. December 11, 2009. Retrieved October 7, 2011.
  12. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named sportsillustrated.cnn.com
  13. "Team USA Beats Russia In 'Marathon On Ice'". Team USA.

To be expanded (Winter Olympics, basketball, ice hockey and chess rivalries)[edit]

added sources/more info[edit]

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