The forgotten gold medal team of 1960

The Williams family of Duluth loaded into their 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air and headed 2,000 miles west in February 1960. Their destination was the Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif.

The Williams family of Duluth loaded into their 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air and headed 2,000 miles west in February 1960. Their destination was the Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif.

Butch Williams, age 7, could barely contain himself with the thought of watching his older brother, Tommy, play for the United States hockey team. Tommy, 19, a speedy, nifty forward, was the team's youngest player.

"Even though he was 12 years older than me, we had a very close relationship. He had a terrific way of making you feel important," Butch Williams remembered of his brother this week. "When we got to the Olympics, he let me tag along to practices and meet some of the players, and, of course, we went to every single game."

Butch Williams, his mom and dad, Rip and Frances, and sister, Emily, all had a rinkside look at history. The unheralded Americans won all seven of their games in 10 days at Blythe Arena and took home a gold medal for the first time.

Duluth also was represented by banker Jim Claypool, who was team manager, and William Atmore, who was team physician. Claypool, who played for two years as a defenseman at the University of Michigan, arranged for all team details off the ice and was privy to all personnel decisions.


"It was hoped we could finish as high as fifth place, or maybe have an opportunity for a medal, but really, no one was giving us much of a chance," Claypool said Tuesday.

The odyssey of the 1960 team was 20 years before a Herb Brooks-coached team won the country's second hockey gold medal, also on U.S. soil, in 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y. A "Forgotten Miracle" documentary was released recently by Golden Puck Pictures and includes interviews with Butch Williams and Claypool, and is available at ($19.95).

Eight Minnesotans were on the 1960 team -- Eveleth star John Mayasich; brothers Bill and Roger Christian of Warroad; Paul Johnson of West St. Paul; Jack McCartan of St. Paul; Dick Meredith of Edina; Edwyn Owen of St. Louis Park; and Williams.

Americans were treated to the first televised Olympics, on CBS, and McCartan sparked the U.S. to an impressive showing, following a silver medal in 1956.

"There were celebrities everywhere, like Walt Disney and Walter Cronkite, and California Gov. Pat Brown even tried to get a seat on the U.S. bench because the arena was so crowded," says Butch Williams, 57, a Duluth small business owner and former NHL player. "The game I remember most was the United States beating Canada [2-1], because we just weren't supposed to beat Canada."

That game was 50 years ago today. The U.S. followed that with a 3-2 win over defending Olympic champion Russia (with Williams assisting on the deciding goal), and a 9-4 gold-medal victory over Czechoslovakia at 8 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28.

After the final game, Tommy Williams got in the family car and headed home. He received his gold medal three months later. Claypool, coach Jack Riley and trainer Bennie Bertini also received medals, but were told it was a mistake. Support personnel were asked to return their medals, but that didn't happen.

"Riley said he dropped his in the [nearby] Truckee River and lost it," said Claypool, 88, formerly on the board of USA Hockey and one-time president of the Minnesota Amateur Hockey Association. "After our experience that year, it would've been hard not to keep something so special.


"Ever since I watched a Duluth Hornet game when I was 12, in the old Amphitheater, that triggered me forever, and watching the game on ice was something I've always enjoyed."

Tommy Williams went on to have the best NHL career of anyone from the 1960 team with 430 points in 663 games from 1961 through 1976. He died in 1992 at age 51. William Atmore died in 1975 at age 52.

Tommy Williams was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1981 and Claypool was inducted in 1995.

The 2010 U.S. Olympic men's team honored the 1960 team by wearing replica jerseys in Sunday's 5-3 win over Canada, and copies of those jerseys were sent to 1960 members, including Claypool. This year's Americans are also undefeated entering Friday's semifinal round in Vancouver, British Columbia. The 1960 team is the only U.S. men's hockey team to go undefeated in an Olympic tournament.

Minnesota Senator David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm), and four colleagues in the Minnesota State Senate, recently wrote President Obama urging him to host the 1960 team in a White House reception.

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