Kragthorpe: Russia, Canada create Olympic magic on ice
Olympics • In most dramatic night of Winter Games, Russians exult, Americans weep

By kurt kragthorpe

Tribune Columnist

Published: February 20, 2014 08:06PM
Updated: February 20, 2014 10:35PM
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Kurt Kragthorpe

Sochi, Russia

Two venues, a five-minute walk apart. Two ice sheets, showcasing elite athletes. Two events, with dramatic finishes.

Sochi’s Games delivered undoubtedly the most entertaining, riveting, two-sport night on ice in women’s Olympic history.

Within a half-hour after Adelina Sotnikova completed a shocking figure skating victory that saved the Games for Russia, Canada scored two late goals to force overtime against the USA in the hockey gold medal game Thursday.

Canada eventually won 3-2, resulting in a defeat that was every bit as crushing for the Americans as Sotnikova’s win was uplifting for her country.

This should have been the night when the U.S. team broke Canada’s hold on the hockey gold medal. It could been the night when the wonderfully named Gracie Gold restored American’s figure skating aura with a medal of any color.

Gracie Silver? Gracie Bronze? Gracie Fourth-Place Certificate?

Gold fell in the middle of her program, attempting a triple flip, and that was that. The reality is it would have taken a spectacular effort for her to medal.

Even with some flaws, this certainly was an improved version of the skater who appeared in Salt Lake City in a second-tier event in September. Gold skated more gracefully, more confidently, and held onto fourth.

For the first time since 1936, U.S. men and women failed to win an individual figure skating medal. Yet this effort was more than respectable for Gold.

In contrast, another silver medal in hockey is awfully tough to accept. Other countries are improving, but this is basically a two-team tournament and the Americans keep finishing second — ever since winning the inaugural event in 1998.

When she fell, Gold said she thought to herself, “Dangit!”

That doesn’t even remotely approach the U.S. hockey players’ level of emotion. In the interview area, defenseman Megan Bozek could barely say these words, amid her tears: “We worked our whole lives for this moment, and we couldn’t hold on.”

The men’s tournament is highly meaningful to the NHL players who will return to their jobs next weeks after playing for 11 days in the Olympics. This competition is even more important to the American women who gear themselves for this every-four-years opportunity, and they had the gold medal in their grasp with a two-goal lead in the last four minutes.

And imagine this: The Americans, still holding a 2-1 lead, watched as a bid for a clinching, empty-net goal hit the post. And then Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin tied the game 54.6 remaining in regulation. She also scored 8:10 into overtime, after goalie Shannon Szabados denied some U.S. scoring chances.

At the nearby figure skating venue, the 17-year-old Sotnikova had done the impossible, the unimaginable, by overtaking Korea’s Yuna Kim and winning convincingly. When she finished her program, she covered her face with her gloved hands, seemingly unable to comprehend what she’d done.

“I found something totally different in myself today,” she said. “I think I found a new me.”

Russia discovered a skating princess, a lasting symbol of these 2014 Games. Russia needed this moment. Russia deserved this moment. The host country’s efficient staging of the Olympic might have gone unrewarded, thanks to a stunning quarterfinal defeat for the men’s hockey team that deflated the country.

Sotnikova came through, changing everything.

Anyone who’s been here this month would appreciate the Russians’ happiness. Anyone who watched the U.S. women’s hockey players walk off the ice would share their sadness.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt