The Soviet squad proved invincible in the competition for a sixth time thanks to their feared attacking trio of Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov – nicknamed the KLM after their surname initials – and the peerless goalkeeping skills of Vladislav Tretyak, who claimed his third and final Olympic gold medal.
Tretyak, yet another star from the CSKA Moscow squad, shot to international fame after his outstanding performances in the USSR-Canada series in 1972, and as part of the Soviet team that won the competition at the Games in Sapporo that year.
The all-dominating USSR successfully defended their title four years later in Innsbruck, beating their Czech rivals into second place with a series of high-scoring victories over the USA, Poland and Finland.
Tretyak – who by the mid-1970s was being compared with sporting heroes such as Pele in terms of his impact on Ice Hockey – helped his country to a staggering 10 World Championship victories between 1970 and 1983, with two silvers and a bronze in the three years they failed to conquer all-comers.
By the time Sarajevo came around the Soviet superstar was being courted by professional NHL team the Montreal Canadiens – a team who he admired for their preference for artistry over brutality to win games. Speculation was rife that he would accept their offer.
He told reporters asking him about his future in the lead-up to the Olympics: “What will happen after Sarajevo? It’s hard for me to answer. Above all, we must win the gold medal; that’s the ultimate goal of my training.”
Tretyak predicted the USSR would dominate the competition in Sarajevo, and his confidence was well founded. By the second round of the tournament the battle for gold had inevitably come down to the Soviets and Czechoslovakia.
The Czechs put up a bold fight, but they couldn’t solve the riddle of Tretyak, or cope with the swoops and glides of wingers Krutov and Makarov, or neutralise Larionov’s precision passes.
Their final showdown was a highly charged affair– but the USSR held firm and emerged 2-0 victors, partly thanks to a series of outstanding stops by Tretyak as the game drew to a close.
When the match was over and the gold medal won, the Soviet team hurled their sticks in the air and coach Viktor Tikhonov – whose decision to pull Tretyak in the 1980 USA showdown may have cost the USSR gold – embraced his unbeatable goalie in a bear hug. Tretyak and the team had finally laid to rest the ghost of their shock defeat to at Lake Placid.
Tretyak retired the same year, spurning a big money move to Canada. In 1989 he became the first Soviet player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame without having played in the NHL.
He was elected to Russia’s State Duma in 2006, and maintained his links with North America by forming the Friends of Canada organisation to foster good relations between the two countries – where he continues to run goalie schools for young ice hockey stars of the future.