Over the past few years, working for one of Easton's more renowned sons, Jim Craig, goalie for the 1980 U.S. "Miracle on Ice" hockey team, I have had a couple opportunities to work with camera crews that were in town to shoot footage for stories being done on the team and Jim.
Indeed the story of the "Miracle on Ice" team is one of the most heart-warming and feel-good in sports history. And Jim Craig, the kid from North Main Street, was the backbone of that team.
But, of course, Easton's Olympic heritage is far more than just Jim Craig. I educate and remind people about that.
For example, both times the camera crews were in town, I made sure that footage was shot on the Ames Family estate, with the crews setting up on the bank of Shovel Shop Pond. Jim skated on this pond as a kid – and the setting is beautiful. I let the people doing the filming know that on the estate once lived Oliver Ames, governor of Massachusetts and the primary raiser of funds to send the U.S. team to the first modern Olympics which were held in Athens in 1896.
There's more. Jim Craig is one of four Olympians who call Easton their hometown. Jim is also not its only gold medalist.
Erik Vendt, a world-class swimmer for more than a decade, is the other Olympic gold medalist from Easton. Erik, a three-time U.S. Olympic team member, won his gold medal as a member of the U.S. 4 x 200-meter relay team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Erik also won silver medals in the 400-meter individual medley at both the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Erik grew up in Easton and attended Easton schools until his freshman year in high school when he enrolled at Boston College High School. Erik was a nationally ranked swimmer, and OA did not have a swimming program at the time, but BC High was a power in the sport. Erik starred in high school he went on to compete for the powerhouse swimming program at the University of Southern California. At USC, he won five NCAA titles and was named All-American 13 times.
Erik is retired from swimming and works for a financial services firm in San Francisco.
International politics probably prevented John Everett, another Easton guy, from winning an Olympic medal – maybe even a gold one.
John, who graduated from OA in 1972, is one of the greatest rowers in U.S. history. He was the president of the National Honor Society at OA, and he went on to MIT where got introduced to rowing. In fewer than four years he would march in the Opening Ceremonies of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal as a member of the U.S. eight-oared crew. The squad finished ninth.
John Everett made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, again as a member of the eight-oared crew, but the games were held in Moscow that year, and because the Soviets had invaded and would not leave Afghanistan, the U.S. boycotted the games and John did not compete. The 1980 U.S. "eight" crew was one of the tops in the world. In the summer of 1980, it competed in pre-Olympic competition in Europe and beat the team from Great Britain that would go on to win the silver medal in Moscow – and it chased to the wire the team from East Germany that went on to take the gold at the games.
It is interesting – about that boycott. I was in Jim Craig's office recently, and I saw an original letter to Jim, signed by Pres. Jimmy Carter, that was sent as a follow up to the February 23, 1980 reception that Pres. Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter held at the White House for the 1980 U.S. Winter Olympic team. Here are excerpts from the letter, dated March 11, 1980, including those that touch on the boycott which the president had already announced – and which was very controversial:
"It was a great pleasure for me to meet with the 1980 Winter Olympic and, on behalf of the American people, to thank you for all your magnificent efforts at Lake Placid. You thrilled the entire nation ….
… I have received a letter from some of the members of the Olympic team asking me to use my leadership to "preserve the spirit of Olympism." I am committed to doing just that. The spirit of the Olympics is peace and goodwill. That spirit would be dishonored if our athletes attended games in the capital of a host nation which is engaged in invading a neighbor and brutally subjugating its people …
… As I stated when I welcomed you to the White House, I am concerned for the athletes who have trained diligently for the Summer Olympics and who cannot now compete in Moscow, for reasons beyond their control …"
I asked John Everett about the boycott.
"I didn't get involved in any of the politics surrounding the boycott," John said. "I didn't think the boycott was a good idea. But it was a long time ago – and people have gotten over it."
Every year, John, a member of the National Rowing Foundation Rowing Hall of Fame, returns in October to the Boston area where he rows with fellow U.S. National team alums in the Head of the Charles Regatta. This year, members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic eight-oared crew were at the regatta to row and celebrate a 30th anniversary.
John, a lecturer in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Michigan, has a daughter who is a junior at MIT and is the co-captain of the school's women's rowing team.
Scott Gordan, who grew up on Depot Street, was a standout goalie at Oliver Ames High School and at Kimball Union Academy and then Boston College, where he was a Hockey East First Team All Star. After graduating from BC in 1986, Scott went on to play in the American Hockey League and in the NHL for the Quebec Nordiques.
In 1992, Scott was a member of and saw playing time for the U.S. Olympic team that competed at the Albertville games.
Scott retired as a player in 1993, but his hockey career was still in its infancy – and he wasn't done with the Olympics. Scott went on to tremendous success as a coach in the professional International Hockey League and ECHL. He was named assistant coach in 2002 of the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Boston Bruins. He became the head coach of the Providence Bruins near the end of the 2003 season. Scott stewarded a winning franchise while with the Providence Bruins, including the 2007-08 season when the Bruins recorded a league best record of 55-18-3 and Scott was named the AHL coach of the year.
On August 12, 2008, Scott Gordon was named head coach of the NHL's New York Islanders. Scott was an assistant coach of the 2010 U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Team that won the silver medal at Vancouver. Last month, he began his third season at the helm of the Islanders.
Impressive Olympic heritage for one town.
I'm thinking that maybe we could build something like an "Olympic Park" in Easton – something small and nice – that honors Oliver Ames and the four Olympians from the community.
Perhaps this park could be a located at the renovated Ames Shovel Shops.
What do you think?