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The U.S.S.R. Gets Three Chances to Defeat the U.S.A.

The U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. at the tip-off of the gold medal game at the 1972 Olympics. Alexander Belov (No. 14) would score the controversial final point for Russia.

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Who really won the 1972 Olympic basketball gold is still a point of contention. Officially, the former Soviet Union took home the gold, but the U.S. team at the time said that the win was underhanded at best.

The U.S. team had won every Olympic basketball gold medal since 1936 -- seven wins in a row -- so there was a lot of pressure for the 1972 team to keep the streak going. The game was a close one, with the U.S.S.R. in the lead at half-time, but the U.S. team closed the gap with just 38 seconds left at the end of the fourth quarter. With seconds to go, U.S. player Doug Collins intercepted a pass from the Soviet team and was fouled, which meant that he got to shoot two free throws. Collins sank them both, which put the U.S. team up by one point [source: Saraceno].

What happened next is something that basketball enthusiasts still debate to this day.

There was one second remaining in the game, and the Soviet team called a time out, saying that they'd tried to call a time out during Collins's free throws and been ignored. The refs put three seconds back on the clock. When those three seconds ran out, and the Americans were about to celebrate their eighth Olympic victory, the Soviets put another three seconds back on the clock, saying that the clock hadn't been reset properly the first time. In those three seconds, U.S.S.R. player Alexander Belov made a basket that put the Soviets in the lead. The clock ran out, and the Soviet Union won the gold [source: Saraceno].

The American team refused to accept the silver medal, saying that those two resets of the clock had cheated them of their victory. The medal is still unclaimed to this day [source: Saraceno]. Sports experts and the members of the two teams continue to argue about whether those resets were fair or foul play. With Cold War in full swing then, it's hard to be sure.

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