Olympic Ice Hockey Medal Winners

Canada and the Soviet Union dominated the tournament for nearly a century

Men's ice hockey become an Olympic sport in 1920. Yet, a list of men's Olympic hockey medal winners contains what -- at first glance -- appear to be oddities. The Soviet Union dominated much of the second half of the 20th century, though it did not send its first ice hockey team to the Winter Olympics until 1956. By contrast, Canada won nearly all of the early Olympic ice hockey tournaments, but fell to second place -- or lower -- when the mighty Soviet "Big Red Machine" teams started taking part in the Games.

The Early Years

The first Olympic men's ice hockey tournament was actually held during the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. The Winter Olympics, which began in 1924 in Chamonix, France, included a men's ice hockey tournament, which has been part of the Winter Games ever since.

Canada dominated the early years of Olympic ice hockey, winning the gold medal in five of the first six tournaments. But, its domination was not to last. From the mid-50s through the late 1980s, the Soviet Union owned Olympic ice hockey -- winning seven gold medals over the course of nine Olympics. (The U.S. won gold in 1960 and 1980, when college players defeated the USSR in the "Miracle on Ice.")

"The Soviets structured their elite league to ensure the national team’s success in international competition," John Soares noted in a 2008 article published in the "Brown Journal of World Affairs." The International Olympic Committee would not allow professional athletes to compete in ice hockey until 1986, and the NHL did not give the green light for its players to take part in the Games until 1998.

"Amateur" Professionals

That meant that only amateurs could compete in Olympic ice hockey -- for most countries. The Soviets, by contrast, developed what was essentially a professional Olympic ice hockey team -- but did not call it that, as Soares notes:

All Soviet athletes were classified as amateurs, and many of the best hockey players in the Soviet Union were designated as professional military officers, even though they trained full-time in their sport and received compensation that placed them among the elites in Soviet society.

Allowing the Soviets to field ice hockey teams composed of full-time athletes helped them to run roughshod over their Olympic opponents. "This system afforded great competitive advantage to the Soviets, and they capitalized on it," Soares says. 

Indeed, the USSR broke up in 1991, and some of the nations that had comprised the Soviet Union began to field their own teams after that. Still, the Commonwealth of Independent States -- which was made up of most of the countries of the former USSR -- managed to win gold in 1992.

Starting in 1998, boosted by the inclusion of NHL players, teams from other countries began to take their turns atop the medal podium.

Year

 Gold

Silver

Bronze

1920

Canada

United States

Czechoslovakia

1924

Canada

United States

Great Britain

1928

Canada

Sweden

Switzerland

1932

Canada

United States

Germany

1936

Great Britain

Canada

United States

1948

Canada

Czechoslovakia

Switzerland

1952

Canada

United States

Sweden

1956

Soviet Union

United States

Canada

1960

United States

Canada

Soviet Union

1964

Soviet Union

Sweden

Czechoslovakia

1968

Soviet Union

Czechoslovakia

Canada

1972

Soviet Union

United States

Czechoslovakia

1976

Soviet Union

Czechoslovakia

West Germany

1980

United States

Soviet Union

Sweden

1984

Soviet Union

Czechoslovakia

Sweden

1988

Soviet Union

Finland

Sweden

1992

CIS

Canada

Czechoslovakia

1994

Sweden

Canada

Finland

1998

Czech Republic

Russia

Finland

2002

Canada

United States

Russia

2006

Sweden

Finland

Czech Republic

2010

Canada

United States

Finland

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