Do you still believe in miracles? 1980 hockey team ignites flame

Saturday, February 9th 2002, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Twenty-two years later, there he was again: Mike Eruzione motioning for his ``Miracle on Ice'' teammates to join him in celebration.

At the height of the opening ceremony Friday night, Eruzione took the Olympic torch from skier Picabo Street and U.S women's hockey captain Cammi Granato. Then he stood alone, smiling.

He gestured to his gold-medal-winning pals and they came on the stage. Now graying adults, they wore replicas of their hockey jerseys from 1980, when they were college kids who overcame long odds to dethrone the Soviet Union powerhouse in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Eruzione, the team captain, summoned them to the medal stand back then. On Friday night, he high-fived each man and they leaned in together to ignite the base of the cauldron.

The flame, which had traveled 13,500 miles through 46 states, took one last trip, spiraling up a 117-foot structure and settling into its home for the next 16 days.

``It's hard to imagine yourself being an Olympic athlete and winning a gold medal, then 22 years go by and you carry the torch and light the Olympic flame,'' Eruzione said.

In Winthrop, Mass., his family gathered to watch him light the torch.

``All I can remember is people telling me all about my father, and I've never seen it,'' said Eruzione's daughter, Leighan. ``And now I can see it, and it's something I can really understand.''

The identity of the final torchbearer _ or bearers, in this case _ is always kept secret at the Olympics. In the past, the role has been performed by royalty and by children, by Muhammad Ali and Australian sprinter Cathy Freeman, by an unknown archer and an unknown ski jumper.

Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, made the call on the final torchbearer.

He first decided in August. He reconsidered after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but stuck by his original choice.

The final leg of the torch relay was a star-studded cast of skaters and skiers.

It began with figure skaters Dick Button and Dorothy Hamill, who came into Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium together. They handed the torch to fellow figure skating medal-winners Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming, both cancer survivors.

The two gold-medalists then took a lap on the ice rink set up on the stadium floor, giving way to skiers Billy Johnson and Phil Mahre.

Next up were speedskaters Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair, America's most decorated women's Winter Olympian. They were followed by Jim Shea Sr., a former skier, and his son, current skeleton racer Jim Jr., two-thirds of the first three-generation Olympic family. Patriarch Jack Shea, a double gold medalist from the 1932 Lake Placid Games, had been planning to attend the games but was killed in a car crash last month.

Street and Granato then took the flame and climbed the stairs to where Eruzione awaited.

Noticeably absent from the torch relay was Eric Heiden, who swept all five gold medals in speedskating at the 1980 Games and set a world record in each.

Heiden became an orthopedic surgeon and is the doctor for this year's speedskating team. He said he was offered a chance to be one of the final torchbearers, but wanted only to be the final one.

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