Is hosting the Olympics a waste if your country fails in the one event everyone cares about?
If the fans filtering out of the Bolshoy Ice Dome following Russia’s 3-1 loss to Finland in men’s hockey were any indication, the answer is yes.
The red machine never got it going in Sochi, struggling to score goals with a lineup stocked with all-world talent up front. Unfortunately luck wasn’t on their side, as indicated by the team’s low shooting percentage in games against the United States, Slovakia, and of course, the Finns.
Star forward Alex Ovechkin was singled out by head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov for scoring only once during the tournament.
Bilyaletdinov, however, pinned his team’s quarterfinal exit on himself. “I’m at fault for everything. I didn’t fulfill the task before me.” Then he had this wonderful exchange with a reporter.
Q (Reporter): What future, if any, do you see for your own work and for your coaching staff? Because, you know, your predecessor was eaten alive after the Olympics—
A (Bilyaletdinov): Well then, eat me alive right now—
Q: No, I mean—
A: Eat me, and I won’t be here anymore.
Q: But we have the world championship coming up!
A: Well then, there will be a different coach because I won’t exist any more, since you will have eaten me.
Q: But you’re staying, aren’t you?
A: Yes, I will remain living.
As of Wednesday night Bilyaletdinov’s torso and lower body remain free of bite marks.
Ovechkin was the only Russian player to speak to the media after the game, taking responsibility like a gritty North American player would. Oh, wait.
We do know the following for sure; Ovechkin will never take ownership of what happened today.
— Damien Cox (@DamoSpin) February 19, 2014
Sorry, Mr. Cox but we actually do know the following: making baseless assumptions that ultimately prove false can get you a pretty sweet job in the media.
The hockey players have been subject to the majority of criticism among the athletes gathered in Sochi the last two weeks. It makes sense. They’re professionals in every sense of the word, and the men’s hockey tournament is the highlight of the Winter Games.
But it’s worth noting the success stories Russia has enjoyed thus far.
Julia Lipnitskaia’s fall in the ladies short program left spectators with a feeling of deja vu. “Twice in one day?” However, it was her teammate, Adelina Sotnikova, who had the skate of her life. The 17-year-old is now within striking distance of defending Olympic gold medalist Yuna Kim heading into the free skate.
A love story played out at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, where Russia’s Alena Zavarzina, who just won bronze in the Parallel Giant Slalom, watched her husband Vic Wild win gold in the men’s final.
Wild used to represent the United States, but struggled to receive funding from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. He became obtained Russian citizenship after marrying Zavarzina in 2011 and the rest was history.
“I told everybody in the Russian snowboard federation: If you guys take me, you’ll never regret it,” Wild told NBC’s Nick Zaccardi. Turns out he was right.
There’s more. Viktor Ahn, another exiled athlete took in when his dreams of competing for the highest honors were at their lowest, won gold in short speed skating. Alexandr Zubkov and Alexey Voyevoda won gold in the two-man bobsleigh. As did Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov in pairs figure skating.
Russia has 22 medals in Sochi, good enough for fourth place in the medal standings. They’ll have a number of chances to add to that total before the games conclude on Sunday.
But right now that doesn’t matter. Hockey overshadows everything at the Winter Olympics. This is not an illness unique to Russia. If Canada had lost to Latvia on Wednesday the games would have been a failure. Try telling that to the Canadian athletes that have reached the pinnacle of their sports in Sochi.
Sure, it sucks right now. But losing perspective on the big picture is a fool’s errand. Russia’s hockey team failed to come through, but that doesn’t mean these games are a failure.
It’s time for the worthy to bask in the spotlight.