Russia-U.S. hockey gave Games a massive spark


SOCHI, Russia – On Russian television, in the hours after a thrilling, beautiful and strange hockey game, they showed the Fyodor Tyutin goal that did not count. Tyutin takes a hard wrist shot from the blue line. The puck smacks into a high part of the net. The Russians celebrate. Then they show it again. Shot. Net. Celebrate. Again. Now from a different angle. Now from the first angle. Shot. Net. Celebrate.

And again.

Now, they show the referee go into the booth to review. He puts on a headset. Quick, one more shot of Tyutin scoring. Shot. Net. Celebrate. Back to the referee. He steps out of the booth. He waves off the goal. Now a shot of Russian President Vladimir Putin looking displeased. Now the goal again.

And all the while they are talking – commentators, analysts, a former Russian Olympian. They speak Russian words rapidly, forcefully, emotionally. There is no translator around. There is none needed. It’s clear what they are saying.

They are saying that Russia got cheated.

VIDEO: A Russian-language broadcast of the game

Back home in America, Saturday’s United States-Russia hockey game might have been the moment when these Sochi Olympics took flight. Up to now these have been a disjointed American Olympics. There have been wonderful moments – Sage Kotsenburg taking slopestyle gold on a trick he’d never tried, Julia Mancuso winning a medal at her third straight Olympics, Noelle Pikus-Pace completing her impossible journey with a silver and so on.

There have been numerous disappointments. All of it has felt sporadic and uneven. The Olympics needed a centerpiece.

Then came this magnificent hockey game between the U.S. and Russia in front of a wild crowd here and big early morning crowd back in the States. There was nothing too big at stake except for every emotion and nuance that has marked the turbulent relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Russia scored first on a lightning-strike goal from their hockey genius Pavel Datsyuk. The U.S. answered when defenseman Cam Fowler stuffed home a shot from right in front of the net.

Team USA took the lead on a perfectly set up power play goal from Joe Pavelski early in the third. Russia tied it three minutes later on more breathtaking stuff from Datsyuk. “It was like, they scored, we scored, they scored, we scored,” American T.J. Oshie would say.


And all of it was played at such a breathtakingly high level, with so much speed and force and will, that people felt compelled to go on Twitter and gush, “Isn’t Olympic hockey amazing?” The Russians – particularly the Datsyuk line – created beautiful chances. American goalie Jonathan Quick made several unthinkable saves. Time and again, the Russians would create beautiful geometric setups for star Alex Ovechkin to unleash his lethal slap shot. Time and again, American defenders would jump in front of the screaming puck. “Takes tremendous courage,” American coach Dan Bylsma said, happily speaking the obvious.

Shortly before the end of the third period, Tyutin scored the goal that wasn’t a goal. He was standing in back left corner of the zone, and he wristed a shot that Quick lost in traffic. The puck sailed over Quick’s left shoulder, clearly went in the net, and then bounced out. The Russian celebration was on, the Bolshoy Ice Dome a wall of sound.

The officials never really explained to the crowd why the goal was disallowed – even Bylsma would say he was never given the reason. The goal was disallowed because the American net was slightly – SLIGHTLY – off its moorings, having been crashed into by Jonathan Quick himself. That can be enough to disallow the goal. But, as we will see, it’s not that simple.

The disallowed goal did not set off anger, at least at first. There was no official protest, no obvious fury even in the stands. Instead, it set off a massive wave of confusion. Nobody seemed to know what had just happened. Some thought the officials had ruled the puck never went in the net. Some thought there must have been some sort of technical ruling.

The fury would come out later.

RELATED: Russian players think Quick intentionally dislodged goal

The amazing game went into overtime, and then it went into a shootout. Most hockey purists despise shootouts, and they are right. It’s a gimmicky way to end great games; not unlike ending the World Series with a home run derby or an NBA finals with a three-point shootout or a chess world championship match with a quick game of checkers.

But, it’s hard not to admit: While a shootout may be cheat entertainment, it is entertaining. The best goal scorers go one-on-one with the goalie. That means every single play ends one of three ways: With a brilliant goal, a brilliant save, or a titanic blunder. The Olympic shootout adds another element – in the Olympics, if the score is still tied after the first three players on each team go, then the shootout continues until there’s a winner. And a team can send the same person out again and again and again endlessly.

That is how the United States met T.J. Oshie on Saturday. Oshie in his real life is a forward for the St. Louis Blues, but on Saturday played the role of American superhero. Five straight times, the United States sent him out there to either win the game or keep the overtime going. The United States has a lot of great goal scorers. Bylsma never seemed to consider any of them but Oshie.

Oshie has a distinctive shootout style. While most players take the puck and go in something of a straight line – building up some speed to make the goalie feel threatened – Oshie at first skates slowly and aimlessly, as if he’s looking for someone to ask for the next couples skate. He winds around, and winds around; the mission seems to be to make the goalie move first. He does this with hypnotic grace.

Here’s how Oshie’s five key shootout shots went.

VIDEO: Watch all of T.J. Oshie’s shootout goals

No. 1: With a chance to win the game, he slowly moved in on Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, made a sudden move to his left that left the net wide open. He flicked his shot over the goal for a miss. “Even when he didn’t score,” Bylsma would say, “it looked like he would.”

No. 2: With Oshie needing to make the shot to keep the Americans in the game, he glided in – so slowly he did not seem to moving his legs – and he waited for Bobrovsky to make his move. Bobrovsky did. Oshie slid the puck through his legs.

No. 3: Again he needed a goal to keep the game alive, and this time he came in very close to the goalie, pulled some kind of shoulder and elbow fake that made Bobrovsky go down, and then he flipped the puck over him for the goal.

No. 4: This time for the win, Oshie again thoroughly faked out Bobrovsky and seemed to have scored when suddenly – perhaps even luckily – Bobrovsky’s stick connected with the puck, deflecting it over the net.

No. 5: The game-winner, one more slow approach, one more time waiting for Bobrovsky to make the first move, one more shot through the legs. And the Americans had won. They raced on the ice to celebrate.

And so an astonishing game ended. Only, no. It didn’t end. It still hasn’t ended. It won’t end for a long time. Almost immediately after the game, there was word that Russian defenseman Slava Voynov, who played with Quick for the Los Angeles Kings, told Russian reporters that Quick has a habit of dislodging nets when attackers are buzzing around. “I play with him,” Voynov said. “I know that’s his style.”

Quick’s response: “I didn’t know until after I saw – I turned around and saw the net was off. It was a lucky break.”

That “lucky break” theme didn’t really play in Russia. For one thing, nobody seemed sure the net being slightly off its moorings should have mattered. In the National Hockey League, the goal almost certainly would have been allowed because the net’s slight misplacement had no bearing on the goal itself.

Then Ovechkin pointed out that even if the net was off its moorings, it was clearly knocked off by the Americans. So there should have been a penalty called on Quick. The Russian head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said the officials had made a mistake but pleaded, “What can I do?”

VIDEO: Al Michaels, Doc Emrick discuss game’s impact

And then came the media types – one asked why an American, Brad Meier, was one of the officials – and then came Russian television to show the goal over and over (they just showed it AGAIN) along with Putin’s reproachful look. And these Russian Olympics have a full-on sports controversy.

The Russian goal, I suspect, should have counted. Here in Russia, where there’s soul-crushing pressure on the hockey team to win gold, that no-goal probably will be remembered forever, much in the same way that in America we always remember the final three seconds of the 1972 Olympic gold medal basketball game, when the Soviets were given repeated chances to win and, eventually, did.

But this one IS different. That Olympic basketball game was for gold. There were no second chances for the American team (who refused their silver medals). This, on the other hand, was just the second game for both teams; the game really wasn’t for much more than pride and maybe a little placement down the Olympic road.

The point is, instead of ending Russia’s quest, it just made the quest more compelling. A second meeting between Russia and the U.S. might explode the entire sports world. Yes, in Russia and in the United States, as my kids like to say, the Olympics are so on.

U.S. Olympic Team Trials schedule for track and field

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USA Track and Field announced the schedule of events for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. The meet will take place in Eugene, Ore. from July 1-10.

The top three finishers in each individual event will qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics, provided they have achieved the qualifying standard.

The schedule suits Allyson Felix, who could go for a Michael Johnson-like 200m-400m double in Rio. After the women’s 400m final on July 3, she would be able to rest until the first round of the women’s 200m on July 8.

Ashton Eaton, the 2015 male IAAF Athlete of the Year, set the decathlon world record at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. He then broke his own world record at the 2015 world championships. The decathlon competition will take place July 2-3.

The men’s shot put on July 1 will be the first event at the meet to qualify Olympians for the Rio Games. But the first USATF athletes will qualify to go to Rio at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.

Four event finals are scheduled to take place on the Fourth of July. The last event final of the day will take place at 5:51 p.m. PT. Then the athletes have a rest day on July 5, and the hammer throw will be the only event contested on July 6.

Here’s the schedule of event finals for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, along with the event winners* from the 2015 USA Track and Field Championships:

Date Event Final 2015 Winner
Friday, July 1 Men’s Shot Put Joe Kovacs
Friday, July 1 Men’s 10,000m Galen Rupp
Saturday, July 2 Women’s Discus Throw Gia Lewis-Smallwood
Saturday, July 2 Women’s 10,000m Molly Huddle
Saturday, July 2 Women’s Long Jump Tianna Bartoletta
Sunday,  July 3 Women’s High Jump Chaunte Lowe
Sunday,  July 3 Men’s Long Jump Marquis Dendy
Sunday,  July 3 Women’s 400m Allyson Felix
Sunday,  July 3 Men’s 400m David Verburg
Sunday,  July 3 Women’s 100m Tori Bowie
Sunday,  July 3 Men’s 100m Tyson Gay
Monday, July 4 Men’s Pole Vault Sam Kendricks
Monday, July 4 Men’s Javelin Throw Sean Furey
Monday, July 4 Women’s 800m Alysia Montano
Monday, July 4 Men’s 800m Nick Symmonds
Wednesday, July 6 Men’s Hammer Throw Kibwe Johnson
Wednesday, July 6 Women’s Hammer Throw Amber Campbell
Thursday, July 7 Women’s Shot Put Michelle Carter
Thursday, July 7 Women’s Triple Jump Christina Epps
Thursday, July 7 Women’s 3000m Steeplechase Emma Coburn
Friday, July 8 Men’s Discus Throw Jared Schuurmans
Friday, July 8 Men’s 3000m Steeplechase Evan Jager
Friday, July 8 Women’s 100m Hurdles Dawn Harper-Nelson
Saturday, July 9 Women’s Javelin Throw Kara Winger
Saturday, July 9 Men’s Triple Jump Omar Craddock
Saturday, July 9 Men’s 5,000m Ryan Hill
Saturday, July 9 Men’s 200m Justin Gatlin
Saturday, July 9 Men’s 110m Hurdles David Oliver
Sunday, July 10 Women’s Pole Vault Jenn Suhr
Sunday, July 10 Men’s High Jump Erik Kynard
Sunday, July 10 Women’s 1500m Jenny Simpson
Sunday, July 10 Men’s 1500m Matt Centrowitz
Sunday, July 10 Women’s 400m Hurdles Shamier Little
Sunday, July 10 Women’s 5,000m Nicole Tully
Sunday, July 10 Men’s 400m Hurdles Bershawn Jackson
Sunday, July 10 Women’s 200m Jenna Prandini

*NOTE: Byes to the 2015 world championships were awarded to 2013 world champions and 2014 Diamond League event winners

Olympians headline swimming’s Winter Nationals; Preview

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Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin and Nathan Adrian are among the Olympic gold medalists listed on the psych sheets for this weekend’s Winter Nationals in Federal Way, Wash.

Phelps’ lineup includes the 200m IM, 100m butterfly and 200m butterfly. At Summer Nationals in August, he clocked the fastest times in the world in each of those events.

“I already know what I can change in that event,” he told NBC Sports’ Carolyn Manno in a poolside interview immediately following his 200m IM.

Franklin is expected to swim the 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 200m freestyle, 100m backstroke, where she is seeded second behind Natalie Coughlin, and 200m backstroke.

Coughlin will also see action in the 50m and 100m freestyles. She said earlier in 2015 that the 100m backstroke may enter her repertoire again, and at the Pan American Games, her 100m backstroke leadoff leg in the medley relay was the fastest she’s been since the 2008 Beijing Games at 59.05.

MORE: Phelps, Franklin, Ledecky win to end Minneapolis meet

Adrian will swim the 50m freestyle, where he is ranked first, and the 100m freestyle, where he ranks third. However, both men faster than him in the 100m freestyle field represent non-U.S. countries internationally.

Allison Schmitt is slated to compete with Franklin in the 100m and 200m freestyles, in addition to the 400m freestyle. Katie Ledecky, who has dominated U.S. women’s freestyle events at all distances, is not expected at the meet.

Notable international names competing at the meet, like those ranked above Adrian in the 100m freestyle, include:

  • Olympic bronze medalist Vladimir Morozov (Russia): 100m freestyle, 50m freestyle, 100m breaststroke, 100m backstroke
  • Olympic gold medalist Ous Mellouli (Tunisia): 400m freestyle, 1500m freestyle, 400m IM
  • Olympic gold medalist Grant Hackett (Australia): 100m freestyle, 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle
  • World champion Yulia Efimova (Russia): 50m freestyle, 100m breaststroke, 200m breaststroke, 200m IM
  • Pan American Games medalist Santo Condorelli (Canada): 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 100m butterfly

A live webcast of the meet will be available on, including noon E.T. prelims and 9 p.m. E.T. finals beginning Thursday, Dec. 3 through Saturday, Dec. 5. NBC will air coverage on Sunday, Dec. 6 from 1-2 p.m. E.T.

MORE: Reece Whitley named Sports Illustrated’s Sportskid of the Year