Mike Eruzione will be back in the spotlight Thursday night, doing something he never expected.
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The captain of the U.S. Olympic ”Miracle on Ice” hockey team from the 1980 Lake Placid Games is among 11 Olympians expected to appear on the last night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., before Mitt Romney’s speech to accept the party’s nomination for president.
”I’ve never done anything like this before,” Eruzione said.
Eruzione and Romney first met through the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, which were marred by a bribery scandal related to the bidding process and massive financial shortfalls — problems that came before Romney was hired to lead the organizing committee in 1999.
Eruzione helped light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Salt Lake Games, and said he’s honored to be part of the convention.
”It’s the first time anybody’s ever asked me to be part of something so big,” said Eruzione, who scored the goal that put the U.S. ahead to stay in its fabled 4-3 upset of the Soviet Union in 1980. ”I’m not going to get up there and talk about Medicare or job opportunities. I’m going to talk about my relationship with him and Salt Lake City and what I thought was an absolutely incredible job to pull those games together. It could have been a disaster.”
The Olympians will certainly add some star power, and it’s become common for campaigns to look for a boost from the sports world. Earlier this month, a number of current and former NBA stars including Michael Jordan, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony attended a New York campaign fundraiser for President Barack Obama, one that raised an estimated $3 million.
Many of the Olympians invited to the convention have ties to the 2002 Olympics.
Derek Parra won a speedskating gold medal at those games. Skeleton athlete Lea Ann Parsley helped carry a tattered U.S. flag, rescued from the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks, into the opening ceremony in Salt Lake City, and later won a silver medal. Jean Racine Prahm was a women’s bobsled pilot in 2002, third-generation Olympian Jim Shea won gold in skeleton, and Bill Schuffenhauer helped the U.S. win a silver medal in men’s bobsled.
Five current or former members of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation are to appear Thursday, which is no coincidence, Parsley said.
”I think 2002 was a breakout year for our federation,” Parsley said. ”We owe a lot to Mitt Romney and the staff that he put together to pull those Olympic Games from the brink of disaster. The Olympic Games were in question and he really came in and put together a staff of people who did the job and turned it into a huge success. If he had not done what he did, we would not have done what we did.”
Other Olympians expected to appear on Thursday include swimmer Rowdy Gaines, speed skaters Dan Jansen and Andy Gabel, skeleton athlete Noelle Pikus-Pace and rifle shooter Kim Rhode, who at the London Games won gold in skeet shooting — marking the fifth straight Olympics where she won a medal.
Eruzione, Parra and Rhode have been announced as speakers on Thursday’s schedule.