The Nagano Tapes

An online documentary captures the spirit of the 1998 Czech ice hockey victory

You can relive the still amazing story of the Czech ice hockey team in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics with the online documentary The Nagano Tapes on the Olympic Channel website. It is the first film in the channel’s series Five Rings Films.

It is not a quickly edited compilation of great shots and saves. It goes way back into Czechoslovak history to set up what made winning so important for the Czech team. News clips explain how the Soviet Union dominated sports in the Eastern bloc after 1948, and show some of the invasion in 1968.

Hockey and football became closely tied with Czech national identity, the documentary claims.

The film also tracks the influence of Czech players on the NHL after 1990, both with vintage sports footage and modern interviews with players Jaromír Jágr, Petr Svoboda, Dominik Hašek, as well as journalists and analysts from Czech media. (Remember to turn closed captioning on).

There are also interviews with opposing Olympic team members, particularly from Canada. Player Theoren Fleury still laments his team's loss; coach Marc Crawford wishes he put Wayne Gretzky in the shootout.

Jágr is particularly modest about his transition to the NHL and the Czech loss in the 1996 World Cup. He also talks about his haircut.

The sport itself was changing after 1990, becoming a big business. The NHL pushed for NHL players to be allowed in the 1998 Olympics for the first time so the sport would get a higher profile.

But few people gave the Czech team much of a hope of winning, as it was a mix of NHL and local Czech players, and the Czech team lost badly in 1996.

As the Czech team advances, the documentary shows the mood back in the Czech Republic, not only on Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square but in pubs and schools across the country.

This is where the documentary excels — in capturing that one moment of national pride that has not been seeming before or since.

Much more time is spent on the semi-final match than the final, perhaps due to the availability of Canadian players who wanted to talk. It was also a much more exciting game.

If you were here in 1998, the documentary will certainly bring back memories.

You can watch the film here free:

Video on YouTube

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