The good, the bad and the U.S. hockey team
Posted: Mon February 23, 1998 at 1:53 AM ET
By Jim Kelley, CNN/SI
NAGANO, Japan (CNN/SI) --Few things better illustrate what the Olympics are and what they should never be than the opposite fortunes of the U.S. Olympic hockey teams.
The American women, relying on a tried and true method of long-term planning, long-term team development and playing with the esprit de corps that comes from working together for a common goal, were for me the most beautiful thing about the Olympics. Seeing them achieve their dreams with a dramatic win over four-time world champion Canada in the Big Hat ice arena was the premier moment of the XVIII Winter Olympics.
Watching a band of NHL regulars come apart to the point of embarrassing their country as the village idiots of these games lends a strong point to the argument that all that glitters is not gold and maybe, just maybe, the NHL and the IOC should rethink the idea of having NHL players as a part of their program.
It's not that the men's team and all the men's teams in this tournament didn't raise the technical level of play in hockey at the Olympic Games. They did that, but the bigger question is whether they made the games any more enjoyable. I've seen lots of great hockey between teams that didn't have "the world's greatest players" in their lineup. In watching the women play, I saw very good hockey and one of the game's great emotional and dramatic moments in Olympic competition. The lasting question of these games will be which is more important.
Being halfway away from my world, it's hard to get a read on things back home, but I suspect America has accepted the fact that it's hockey team came away empty.
The bigger story here was how Team USA never found its competitive fire until trashing a dorm room to a now-revised damage figure of $3,000. It was a huge negative for America and the National Hockey League and an incident that will not easily be forgotten.
Canada's men's hockey team not winning a medal of any kind is likely to provide the biggest aftershock of the games. Canada hasn't won a gold medal in Olympic men's hockey since 1952 (the U.S. has won two golds in that time). Not winning a medal of any kind with what many thought was the world's greatest hockey team will have an impact on Canadian consciousness the likes of which can't be measured on the Richter or any other scale. One can now have real hope that Canada's "it's ours" approach to the sport will mercifully be put to rest.
Tara Lipinski's dramatic gold medal win vs. Michelle Kwan in soon-to-be-ladies figure skating was the most intriguing event of these games.
On a more personal level, nothing tops the competitive drama created by Dominik Hasek and his uncanny performance in goal here. Hasek came to these games looking to erase the quietly whispered complaint that he is the best goalie in the world to have never won anything. In beating the Canadians in a dramatic overtime shootout and then shutting out the powerful Russian squad 1-0 in the gold medal game, Hasek lays claim to being the best goaltender in both the NHL and the world. In a tournament that truly did feature the world's best, that's a remarkable achievement.
There were lots of poignant stories here and a few comical ones. A quick rundown:
King of the hill, queen of the ice: Austrian Herman Maier recovers from a spectacular fall in the men's downhill to win two gold medals in slalom competitions. Maier, who refused to look at tapes of his first-day fall for fear of damaging his psyche, has picked up the nickname "The Herminator." On the women's side, Dutch speed skater Marianne Timmer came out of nowhere to win a pair of gold medals. Timmer also broke a 10-year-old World and Olympic record in the 1,000-meter race.
Cheapest gold medal: Canadian Annie Perreault wins the gold in women's 500-meter short-track skating after the two skaters in front of her fell down. Perreault's time wasn't as good as some skaters in the B race, one of whom got the bronze because there weren't enough skaters who didn't fall down in the final to give three of them medals.
Best Olympian never to be noticed by North American media: Bjorn Daehlie, the superb Norwegian cross-country skier won his eighth gold medal here and pushed his collection of gold, silver and bronze, to 12 and counting.
Most amazing finish: Norway beat Italy by 0.2 seconds in the men's 4 X 10-kilometer cross-country relay race. That's the length of the tip of a cross-country ski. The race was actually a photo finish. Believe me -- you had to be with the bears in the woods to sense the excitement.
Best nationalistic moment: The Japanese four-man ski team leaps to Olympic record heights in front of a massive flag-waving crowd that instantly elevates them to national hero status. This was so important in Japan that our bus driver stopped along the side of the road and came back to watch the final jump on a monitor. It was a particularly important day for Masahiko Harada. Harada told the world press he would have to leave Japan (in disgrace) if the team did not win. Harada's uncharacteristically short jump in Lillehammer four years ago cost the Japanese a gold.
Worst performance by a name athlete: Alberto Tomba, the talented and bombastic slalom skier, came here hoping to medal in a fourth straight Olympics. He fell 18 seconds into his first run and watched the rest of the Olympics from his hotel room.
Best quotes: "It was second-hand smoke," Canadian gold medal snowboarder Ross Rebagliati after testing positive for traces of marijuana ... "USA Hockey will have no further comment on the matter. For more information, please call Darryl Seibel at USA Hockey." -- USA Hockey press release regarding the Team USA dorm-trashing incident ... "The 500m [individual] went super good and the relay went super good and we have a good shot at winning Saturday cuz I don't think all of us guys went all out last night and we have some juice left." -- Marc Gagnon, Canadian men's short-track speed skater in an obvious slam at Team USA hockey's lifestyle here.
Worst quote: "Dedicate that to your dead father," no one admits to saying this to Canadian female hockey player Danielle Goyette, but just about everyone here claims to have heard that a member of Team USA said it. Goyette had dedicated her Olympics to her father, who passed away just before the Olympics began.
Best in your face performance: French figure skater Surya Bonaly, a former gymnast competing in her last Olympics, did an illegal back flip near the end of her long program in ladies figure skating. It was nothing less than a full body gesture to the judges, many of whom Bonaly felt had discriminated against her for years. It was also a spectacular trick.
Worst excuse for not performing: Canadian moguls skier Jean-Luc Brassard claimed the tension of carrying Canada's flag during opening ceremonies threw off his skiing. A former gold medal winner, he finished out of the medal round.
Gold, silver and bronze crow eaters: A Canadian sweep. Canadian freestyle skier Veronica Brenner landed badly on her first jump in women's aerials and finished ninth while China's Xu Nannan won a silver medal. Earlier in the Games, Brenner had referred to the Chinese team as "crash test dummies" who were no threat to her medal chances ... Canadian curlers came here claiming that the 50th-ranked Canadian curling team could beat any European team. They then went out and lost the gold medal to Switzerland by a whopping 9-3 score. In the wake of the defeat Canadian skip Mike Harris said "No, it's still true. There are 40 teams in Canada that could be considered gold medal favorites." At least the count was reduced by 10 ... The Canadian men's hockey team, virtually all of whom had said there is no medal except gold for Canada. At least they got it half right.
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.