by Clark Groome
So, what did the world get for Vladimir Putin’s $51 billion?
It depends on your perspective.
If you wanted the United States to dominate the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, you’re likely to be disappointed, The Americans came in second in the overall medal count with 28 (9 gold, 7 silver, 12 bronze), five behind the hosts and nine behind their total at the Vancouver Games four years ago.
They had their worst showing since 1984 in speed skating; didn’t medal in men’s ice hockey; were shut out in the men’s, pairs and ladies figure skating events for the first time since 1936; and didn’t even figure in curling.
On the plus side, the American lads and lassies did extremely well in the X-sports; took a silver in women’s ice hockey; captured the ice dancing gold; and won a silver and three bronzes in bobsleigh competition.
If you were looking for good human-interest stories, there were plenty. The one that captured my attention was slopestyle skier Gus Kenworthy’s pledge to adopt a family of stray dogs, as many other athletes from around the world were also doing. They were responding to the Russian decision to destroy any dogs found in or around the Olympic complex.
If you watched these games closely you would have learned the following:
• All of the events involving female athletes were designated as “women’s events” except for the “ladies” individual figure skating competition.
• It cost more to build the railway from the Black Sea-bordering facilities in Sochi to the mountain sites in Krasnaya Polyana (an estimated $9 billion) than it cost to mount the entire games in Vancouver four years ago (an estimated $8 billion US).
• Women’s hockey missed the memo on political correctness.
It continues to refer to the two people who play defense as “defensemen” and the two officials who cover the lines, calling offsides and icing, as “linesmen,” even though they all were women.
Speaking of hockey, it was not a good tournament for the Americans, although the women did win the silver and the men played well at the outset.
The women’s loss was a heartbreaker. With less than four minutes to go and the United States leading 2-0, the Canadians scored two quick goals, forcing what looked like a certain victory into overtime. The Canadians won it on a power play goal at the 8:10 mark.
The men, after beating the Czech’s handily for the right to face Canada in the medal round, just didn’t show up on Friday and lost to the Canadians, 1-0, putting them in the bronze medal game against Finland, who lost to Sweden after having beaten Russia 3-1, eliminating the home team and, likely, breaking Putin’s heart. The Russian president had said before the games that the only medal that really mattered to him was the hockey gold.
The USA/Finland game for the bronze medal was a continuation of the sleep skating the boys had established against the Canadians, and they lost 5-0.
As disappointed as many were that the USA lost, it’s hard to be too sad after watching the response of his teammates to 43-year-old Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks, who played for Finland. One of the best, most respected and most loved players ever to don a NHL uniform, Selanne, in his sixth Olympics, scored the game winner in the game against Russia and two more against the USA. Good going to a very good guy.
Ultimately the Canadians outscored the Swedes, 3-0, to take their second consecutive gold, and their ninth gold in Winter Olympics history, the most for any country.
These games were the perfect example of why the NHL players should be included in the Olympics. These games were also the perfect example of why the NHL players should not be included in the Olympics.
Every team in the men’s hockey competition had at least one NHL player on board, and every team in the NHL sent at least one player to Sochi. In the gold medal game everyone on the ice, except for Swedish forward Jimmie Ericsson (including referees Brad Meier and Kelly Sutherland and linesmen Derek Amell and Greg Devorski), were from the NHL. The best players throughout came from the best league in the world.
On the other side of the argument, two important NHL players – Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg (Sweden) and New York Islander John Tavares (Canada) – were seriously injured and are likely to miss the rest of the season.
The discussions about 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea, began before these games were even underway. Those discussions will likely heat up as a result of what happened, good and bad, in Sochi.
So were the games worth the $51 billion? That, too, depends on your perspective.