Story #82

USA sends two teams to the 1948 Olympics

ST MORITZ, Switzerland – January 30, 1948
The 1948 Olympics was supposed to be a celebration of sport during a time of peace. The Olympics of 1940 and '44 were both cancelled because of the Second World War, but even before the '48 Olympics got underway there was another war erupting—a hockey war—that threatened the inclusion of hockey at the first post-war Games.

The conflict heated up December 30, 1947 and involved two American hockey bodies — the American Hockey Association (AHA) and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) — and the IIHF. The IIHF had always maintained that athletes could not participate in the Olympics unless they were endorsed by their own country's governing body. In this case, the AAU had run amateur hockey in the U.S. since 1930, but that organization had been expelled by the IIHF the previous year because the AAU had refused to support those players who made up the Americans' national team, all of whom played under the auspices of the "professional" AHA. But the IIHF recognized the AHA before the AAU, and thus welcomed the AHA, not the AAU, to the 1948 Olympics even though it was a league that paid its players. In an era of strictly amateur competition, athletes who were paid to play their sport were forbidden to participate in the Games. As a result, the AAU refused to acknowledge these players because, they said simply, "the AHA players were openly paid salaries."

Avery Brundage, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the American governing body that controlled all amateur sports in the States, sided with the amateur AAU. He threatened to withdraw the entire U.S. Olympic team if the AHA attended the Olympics in St. Moritz. The IIHF countered by threatening to withdraw hockey from the Games if the AHA were banned. "It isn't a question of which hockey team should play," Brundage said. "It is, one, whether the Olympic Games are for amateurs or for business institutions like the AHA; and two, whether the National Olympic Committee has the sole authority to certify entries as international rules specify or whether anybody can get into the picture." At the very moment Brundage spoke, the AHA team had already arrived in St. Moritz and the AAU team was on its way. Two teams hoping to represent the same country!

Meanwhile, the Swiss Olympic Organizing Committee had already formally accepted the AHA application for participation, and the executive committee of the International Olympic Committee offered its opinion — that both U.S. entries be denied. This proposal was rejected by the Swiss committee, and the possibility of hockey being removed altogether from Olympic competition grew more real. On January 20, the U.S. Olympic Committee upped the ante by voting 68-6 in favour of withdrawing all American athletes from the Games if the AHA were allowed to participate.

Just before the Americans were to play their first game of the tournament, the IOC relegated hockey to an "unofficial" event. Then, on February 7th, a compromise was reached whereby only the U.S. entry would be considered unofficial by the IOC. The team — the AHA team — would play all opponents and be placed in the standings, but it could not qualify for a medal and all statistics from games against the Americans would not count. In the end, the AHA team played, but it was disqualified from the competition, in essence, marking one of the darkest days of Olympic sport.

About the Top 100 Stories

As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.

 

The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.

 

These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.

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