USA basketball players celebrate victory prematurely (left), while the USSR's Alexander Belov scores the winning basket in the 1972 Olympic final in Munich

As promised back on day 73 of this countdown I'm going to revisit one of the more controversial ends to an Olympic contest from the 1972 Games in Munich.

The sport was basketball and the game was the men's final between the USA and the Soviet Union.

A bit of history first - the Americans had won all seven previous Olympic titles and had never been beaten in Olympic competiton, winning 63 games up to the 1972 final.

But the team was relatively inexperienced - having played just a dozen games together - and the youngest ever sent to an Olympics, a full 20 years before professional players were included in the US side.

The Soviets, by comparison, were bigger, stronger and had played around 400 times as a team.

The Cold War was also raging to add extra spice to the match.

The Soviets led by five points at half-time and by 10 with 10 minutes remaining, but with 10 seconds left, their advantage had been cut to one point.

With time running out, America's Doug Collins intercepted a Soviet cross-court pass and was fouled, giving him two attempts from the free-throw line to put his side ahead for the first time in the match.

He obliged to put USA 50-49 up with three seconds left.

The game re-started, but with one second showing on the courtside clock, the officials stopped the contest and this is where the controversy began.

The Soviets claimed they had called a time-out during the free throws and, after a prolonged discussion, the clock was re-set to three seconds giving them a second chance.

Again they in-bounded the ball, but the horn sounded to signal an apparant American victory (see picture top left).

It turned out this time that the clock had not been re-set properly and celebrations were cut short as officials ruled three seconds should again be put back on the clock.

And it proved third time lucky for the Soviets as Alexander Belov caught a full-court pass to score the winning basket as time expired (top right).

The US team protested, but a panel of five judges ruled in favour of the Soviet's 51-50 win.

Sports Illustrated writer Gary Smith said: "Everything progressed according to strictly Cold War politics.

"There were three Communist Bloc judges. It's a three to two vote. America loses."

L.A Times writer Randy Harvey countered: "The Americans thought that at every turn they had been cheated when, in fact, they probably hadn't been. But they'll never acknowledge that."

Such was the anger and disgust in the American camp that they refused to attend the medal ceremony and accept their silver medals. They remain in a vault at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.

It was an incredible finish to the game, I'm sure you'll agree.

Do you remember the game, or have you seen footage of those final few seconds? If so, which team do you believe should have won?

Peter Scrivener is a BBC Sport Journalist. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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