This morning the Russians who didn’t stay up to see their hockey team get trounced by the Canadians 7:3, woke up to find that their hockey team had been trounced by the Canadians 7:3.
It was the first time in the history of ever that the Russians had been bunted from the brackets without getting to compete for a medal. This was not just the chance for national glory wasted, but was a frittered opportunity to reap a whole cluster of medals, and the Russians had screwed it up one more time.
“Now the dirt will pour down on us, from the very same press that knows nothing about hockey,” said forward Alexander Ovechkin.
And, hoo boy, was he right.
The headlines didn’t blare, exactly. They groaned, they dripped with sarcasm. “Red Machine Crashes into Maple Tree,” declared Sovetsky Sport. “Like Kids: Canada Crushes Russia on Every Point,” snarked Kommersant. The press piled on the defeated athletes, who were fully aware that they had driven the final nail into the coffin of Russia’s Olympic hopes. And they knew there was a shitstorm waiting for them at home — so they avoided the press.
The city of Tomsk held a moment of silence.
“Because of disgraceful performance of our team I’m afraid to approach TV-set,” tweeted Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to NATO. “How on earth could we have blown it so disastrously in hockey?”
President Dmitry Medvedev suddenly canceled his trip to Vancouver with no explanation.
And, for once, instead of blaming the judges or the Americans, the Russians blamed themselves. Alexander Medvedev, president of the Continental Hockey League, blasted his compatriots. “There are different ways of losing,” he said after observing the game from the VIP box. “But you cannot lose like we lost today. It wasn’t even about the score.”
Only one team member was willing to face the fury finally exploded under questioning in what is perhaps the most memorable line of the Olympics. “Unfortunately, in sports, you can’t order the results in advance,” said coach Vyacheslav Bykov at a press conference.
We got into a situation where we faced one of the strongest teams in the world in the quarterfinal, and couldn’t advance any further. So what do you do about that? Execute us? Fine, do it then. Let’s put guillotines or gallows on Red Square. There’s 35 of us in the delegation — let’s finish us all off!
Perhaps something can come of this, though. Russians love their sport — it’s their proud proletarian New Soviet Man heritage — and to see it implode in such a humiliating fashion, even in the face of “stability” and “consolidation,” may promote some healthy soul-searching. Or as a friend recently put it, “It shows that you can’t build sports on kickbacks.”