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Double Trouble: The Two U.S. Olympic Hockey Teams of 1948

Have you been watching the Olympic ice hockey tournament and cheering for the American team? Be thankful you haven't been forced to choose which U.S. team to root for. American fans faced just such a conundrum at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, when two hockey squads showed up for the games and claimed to be the official American squad. Here's a look at how that happened.

The Background

It would be great if the story hinged on some heated rivalry between the two American teams, but the real problem actually stemmed from the sort of horrendous foresight that was fairly common at early Olympics. (A lot of the pre-1950 games were like field day at your grade school, only with worse planning.)

In 1947, the International Ice Hockey Federation decided that the Amateur Athletic Union should no longer be the governing body for ice hockey in the United States and replaced it with the American Hockey Association. It may sound like a trivial detail, but this decision really rankled longtime American Olympic Committee chief Avery Brundage. Brundage was renowned for being a curmudgeonly champion of amateurism, and he vehemently opposed the AHA, which allowed commercial sponsorships and pro players.

It quickly became apparent that Brundage wasn't going to take kindly to an AHA-assembled team playing in the Olympics. However, given the way the Olympic hockey system was organized at the time, these two groups with diametrically opposed philosophies would have to agree on who should represent the U.S.

The Argument

Despite Brundage's irritation, the AHA went ahead and put together a U.S. Olympic team composed of professional players.

Since the International Ice Hockey Federation—the same body that put the AHA in charge of American hockey—was in charge of approving the participating teams in the hockey tournament, everything seemed to be okay.

Not so fast, though. While the AHA team may have had the hockey world's approval, Brundage and the American Olympic Committee had to approve all of the American participants in the games. Brundage refused to approve the AHA's pro team and had the AAU assemble its own all-amateur team to compete for the red, white, and blue.

In retrospect, someone probably should have realized this system was shaky at best, and at this point, things got pretty awkward. Two "official" American teams showed up in St. Moritz ready to play: one amateur squad approved by the Olympic Committee, and one pro team that had the thumbs-up from the governing body of American hockey. Obviously, the Americans couldn't put two teams in the tournament, so tensions between the squads' respective backers started to flare.

The Resolution

If you think you're confused reading this, think about how flummoxed the International Olympic Committee was. As the opening ceremony approached, the IOC decided to simply bar both of the American teams from the tournament. This decision enraged the International Ice Hockey Federation, though, and it looked like the IIHF might just nix the entire tournament to boycott the IOC's choice.

Cooler heads eventually prevailed. The Swiss organizing committee didn't want to see the hockey tournament get cancelled over this squabble, so it agreed to let the professional AHA team play in the tournament. As a consolation prize, the amateur AAU team would get to march in the opening ceremony. This compromise didn't please the IOC, which washed its hands of the whole mess by severing its ties with the tournament.

The Conclusion

When the AHA's American team took the ice, they played like professionals in a tournament full of amateurs. They thumped Poland 23-4 before thrashing Italy 31-1. However, Team USA had a tougher time with the stronger teams and fell to Switzerland and Czechoslovakia in addition to weathering a 12-3 beating from the Canadians. Although the Americans led the tournament in scoring with 86 goals, their 5-3 record was only good enough for fourth place. The Canadian and Czech teams both finished 7-0-1 in the round-robin tournament, but the Canadians took the gold on the strength of a stronger goal differential.

The IOC eventually came back around, too. It agree to let the pro AHA team represent the U.S. as long as the team couldn't win a medal or appear in the tournament's official standings. That's why if you look at the 1948 Winter Olympics ice hockey standings in a record book, the U.S. team is usually listed as a footnote just below the Italian powerhouse that gave up 156 goals en route to an 0-8 record.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
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Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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