Fire on ice from Firsov in the ice hockey
The Ice hockey tournament was based on a league format, although most fans had already decided who they expected to win before the first match was played. The Soviet Union had won the world championships of 1965, 1966 and 1967 and had not lost an international match for five years. They also boasted a brilliant player who came to Grenoble in wonderful form – Anatoli Firsov, perhaps the finest ice hockey player in Russian history.
The first five matches came and went for the USSR, each with the widely predictable victories. Finland, East Germany, West Germany and the United States were all thrashed with some ease. The Soviet Union won each match by a margin of either eight or nine goals and Firsov scored in each contest, totalling eight in those first four matches.
But then came a surprise – a game against Sweden that proved a close contest. Firsov scored two as the favourites scraped through 3-2. But now there were sudden doubts about their brilliance – and those doubts were to increase. Suddenly their next match, against Czechoslovakia, did not seem quite the foregone conclusion that most had expected.
So it proved. The Czechs took an early 3-1 lead and never looked back, eventually winning 5-4. Firsov failed to score for the first time, although he did claim a single assist. And now the tournament favourites were reeling, having lost for the first time in half a decade.
With one match left, three teams could still win the title – the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia or Canada. The pivotal game was the Soviets against Canada, and finally the favourites rediscovered their winning touch. Gone was the nervousness of the defeat two days previously, and in its place a triumphant confidence. Firsov scored twice as his team won 5-0 to assure themselves of gold.
As for Firsov, he finished the Games with 12 goals and four assists. He was named the best forward of the competition, as well as being its top scorer.