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Russian hockey team knows ‘whole country is behind us’

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SOCHI, Russia — The entire Russian men’s hockey team held a press conference Tuesday at the Main Media Center. You’ll forgive the blurriness of the image, but I wanted you to see the set-up, because it was meant to be symbolic. This is a team, the Russians wanted to demonstrate. It wasn’t just a handful of superstars, and some other guys.

In the middle was legendary goalie Vladislav Tretiak, now the president of the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia. Vice captain Alex Ovechkin sat to the right of coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, who sat to the right of Tretiak. Captain Pavel Datsyuk, along with vice captains Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, were also front and center. The rest were up there for a show of solidarity. It was extremely unlikely they were ever going to talk.

“I think all of us here together decided to appear at this press conference as a team because we want to show we are one team,” said Tretiak via interpreter. “It is a team sport and it is up to the entire team to get the gold, and that is why we are here together to talk to you.”

As expected, the big names got the questions. Occasionally, the Russian press corps and volunteers broke into applause, which is something you don’t see in North America.

“We do believe that as now we are playing on the home turf we will have even more brothers,” Datsyuk said via interpreter. “The whole country is behind us.”

It’s worth mentioning at this point that if you had to pick the two most famous losses in Russian hockey history, you’d probably pick the 1972 Summit Series versus Canada and the 1980 Winter Olympics, where they were shocked by the United States.

Related: Are expectations too high for Russia?

That ’80 Miracle on Ice team has been celebrated as one of the greatest teams — in the truest sense of the word — ever. And Tretiak said today that the underdog Americans taught the Soviets an important lesson about respecting one’s opponent.

As for ’72 , here’s what Canadian hero Paul Henderson once said about the heavily favored Canadian squad that had to pull together and battle back versus the Soviets: “I would say that at the start of that [series], we really weren’t a team, we were a bunch of individuals. But as the series went on, we became a team. And even today, guys that never played a game feel every bit as much a part of the team as guys who played all eight games.”

That kind of bond is what the Russians are hoping to build here in Sochi. The other teams are hoping for that too, of course, but given the number of times the “Not a team player” label has been attached to the likes of Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Radulov, and so many other star Russian players in the modern era, it will be especially interesting to see how this group comes together.

“When we lost to the Canadians [in 2010], it was a big blow to us, a big failure, a big blow to everyone in Russia,” Ovechkin said via interpreter.

On Thursday versus Slovenia, the quest for redemption moves from the dais to the ice.

President Obama to female Olympians: ‘Y’all crushed it’ (video)

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President Barack Obama hosted the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams at the White House on Thursday.

Obama opened his speech by saying that he had planned on doing a floor routine with Simone Biles, before ultimately deciding that the room was too crowded. First Lady Michelle Obama interjected to remind the crowd that her husband “can’t touch his toes.”

The President then singled out the athletic accomplishments of Olympians including Biles, Michelle Carter, Simone Manuel, Claressa Shields, Kristin Armstrong, Kim Rhode, Allyson Felix, Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali, Kristi Castlin, Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps and the men’s and women’s basketball teams.

He also recognized: Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab, Sam Kendricks, the U.S. Army reservist who put down his pole and stood at attention when the national anthem started playing, Will Claye, who proposed to U.S. hurdler Queen Harrison after winning an Olympic silver medal, and Abbey D’Agostino, who helped an opponent to her feet after a crash.

“That is exactly what the Olympic spirit and the American spirit should be all about,” Obama said about the sportsmanship of D’Agostino.

The President was particularly enthusiastic about the performance of the female athletes.

“2016 belonged to America’s women Olympians,” Obama said. “Y’all crushed it.”

Watch Obama’s full speech here.

After Obama’s speech, Biles presented him with a surfboard autographed by the Olympians in attendance.

“I’m going to have a lot of time to surf next year,” Obama said.

MORE: Photos of Team USA at the White House

Photos: Team USA at the White House

Twitter: @TeamUSA
Twitter: @TeamUSA
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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams at the White House on Thursday.

Below are some of the best photos of Team USA from inside the White House: