Olympic women's hockey? Just call it the Rogge Cup
Posted: Sunday February 12, 2006 4:34PM; Updated: Monday February 13, 2006 2:34AM
Even an out-of-synch U.S. team had no problem dismissing the Swiss 6-0 Saturday in their Olympic opener.
TURIN, Italy -- Three medals, two teams.
Woody Allen was right: at the Olympic women's hockey tournament, 90 percent of walking away with a bronze medal draped around your neck is just showing up. Some lucky team, likely the Finns or the Swedes, is going to be honored on the podium on Feb. 20 basically for being there.
The consensus is Canada and the United States will play for the gold medal, a hunch along the lines of the sun will come up tomorrow, taxes will be due April 15 and the musical guest on Saturday Night Live will be a band that only 11 people over the age of 50 ever have heard of. There is some historical precedent for this prognostication. Even before the beatdowns in the first two games of the tournament -- Canada edged Italy and Russia by a combined 28-0 while the Americans warmed up by dusting the Swiss (6-0) and the Germans (5-0) -- the two powers had never lost a game in any competition except, of course, to each other. Canada is 120-0-2 all-time while Team USA is a mere 59-0-2 against the plucky, slower-skating multitudes. In the two previous Olympics that played host to a women's hockey tournament -- discounting the gold-medal grudge matches that the heavyweights split -- the Americans have swamped opponents 68-4 while Canada has outscored them 85-8.
This is not competitive imbalance. This is farce.
American defenseman Angela Ruggiero couched it in the most flattering terms after a middling win against Switzerland (in which an out-of-synch U.S. outshot the Olympic debutantes, 56-9), saying the Swedes and Finns are now roughly where the Americans and Canadians were four years ago. This is a testament to the generosity of spirit of the best female defenseman in the world, and to the politic, white lie. The skill levels of these Nordic countries is perhaps closer to where the North Americans were in Nagano eight years ago, the first time women joined the Olympic hockey party. If the gap has narrowed, it is hardly detectable to the naked eye. Despite some American universities expanding their recruiting base into Europe -- the University of Minnesota-Duluth has been among the most aggressive in combing the Continent -- the worthy exposure the five rings have given to the sport has not yet lifted third-world women's hockey nations in a truly tangible way.
If the IOC can boot women's softball from the Games after 2008, a sport in which four countries -- the U.S., Australia, China and Japan -- play at a high level, why does it tolerate a sport that is truly mastered by only two?