Americans refuse silver as USSR steal controversial basketball final


For as long as people talk about basketball, they will talk about the 1972 Olympic final, one of the most contentious and discussed sporting matches in history.

The United States came into the final having won 62 Olympic matches in a row, dating back to the 1936 Olympics. Indeed, they had never lost a game at the Olympics.

But the Soviet Union had a strong team. They scored first and led by the healthy margin of 26-21 at the half, when it was clear that the match was going to be a lot closer than most American fans had hoped.

With a little more than six minutes to go, the lead had extended to eight points, but then the Americans started to exert strong pressure and saw the Soviets stumble. With just six seconds left to play, the Soviets were ahead by just one point.

And that's where things became contentious. America's Doug Collins won two free throws and sank them both to put his team ahead by a point. But while he was taking those shots, a time-out was called by the USSR. The game resumed with a second left, and when that went by, the United States players started celebrating.

But then the head of the governing body of basketball came on the court, and said the clock should be put back to three seconds because of a refereeing error. That was done, and the USSR's Sasha Belov promptly scored the single basket his team needed to win. Now they were celebrating while the Americans stood furious and bemused as the game ended.

An appeal was held, and refused by three votes to two, but the American team felt a sense of great injustice. The players all decided to refuse their silver medals, none of which has ever been collected. Years later, the game remains one of basketball's best known matches.


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