Czechs pull off heroic upset in the ice hockey

The USA and Canada both brought star-studded teams to Nagano. The National Hockey League had agreed to suspend its season for 19 days so the best players could represent their countries at the Winter Games, which was a major boost to both North American neighbours. They had met in the final of the Hockey World Cup two years earlier, and a rematch seemed likely.

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Canada played well from the start, but the USA simply could not get going. In the round-robin group stage, they did not only lose to the Canadians (4-1), they also went down 4-2 to Sweden. Meanwhile their other old rivals, Russia were picking up momentum, and after a hard-fought 2-1 win over the Czech Republic, started to look like real contenders.

The surprise results continued into the quarter-finals. First, Sweden were knocked out by Finland, and then came an even greater upset as the Czechs beat the USA 4-1. The star for the victors was goaltender Dominic Hašek, who made 38 saves to keep the Americans at bay.

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The Czechs reward for this remarkable result was a semi-final against Canada. Again Hašek shone as the underdogs held on, and then took the lead. Canada equalised with barely a minute left to play, and, after a scoreless overtime period, the game was decided in a shootout. Canada's own goaltender Patrick Roy saved four out of five but the inspired Hašek went one better, saving every single Canadian effort. The Czechs had seen off the favourites and were into the final. Meanwhile the Canadians went home empty-handed after losing the bronze match to the Finns.

The final saw the Czechs handed a revenge match against Russia. Again it was a low-scoring affair, with Hašek once more brilliant in the Czech goal. In the end, the match was decided by one goal. It came from the Czech Republic's Petr Svoboda.

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The Czech players returned home to a heroes’ welcome, with 130,000 fans packing the centre of Prague to celebrate their victory. The story of how they won an unlikely gold has since been retold in a number of books and TV documentaries, and even an opera.