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

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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.

WATCH FULL REPLAY OF USA-RUSSIA MEN’S HOCKEY HERE

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.

Long jumper Marquis Dendy to miss Rio Olympics

BEIJING, CHINA - AUGUST 24:  Marquis Dendy of the United States competes in the Men's Long Jump qualification during day three of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at Beijing National Stadium on August 24, 2015 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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Long jumper Marquis Dendy withdrew from the U.S. Olympic team due to a right leg injury and will be replaced by the next-highest qualified finisher from the Olympic Trials, Mike Hartfield.

Dendy, 23, was fourth at the Olympic Trials but made the three-man team because third-place finisher Will Claye did not have the Olympic standard mark during the qualifying window from May 1, 2015, through the Olympic Trials and thus cannot compete in the event Rio (he did make it in the triple jump).

Dendy, who came into the Olympic Trials with a leg injury, suffered another leg injury on his fourth of six possible finals jumps at Trials on July 3 and passed on the remaining two jumps.

Dendy finished 21st at the 2015 World Championships in his first global championship and is ranked fourth in the world this year.

Hartfield, 26, finished fifth at the Olympic Trials and is going to his first Olympics. He was 12th at the 2015 World Championships.

MORE: Complete U.S. Olympic team roster

What’s troubling athletes arriving in Rio? No ‘Pokemon Go’

Pokemon Go
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — So the plumbing and electricity in the athletes’ village took several days to fix. Who cares?

But no “Pokemon Go”? That’s an outrage!

If there were ever a more “First World problem” for the Zika-plagued, water-polluted Rio Olympics, it’s Brazil’s lack of access to the hit mobile game, which has united players the world over.

Since debuting to wild adulation in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand this month, the game from Google spinoff Niantic Inc. has spread like wildfire, launching in more than 30 countries or territories — but not Brazil.

For athletes and other visitors caught up in the wave, not having access is just one more knock against an Olympics that officials are racing to get ready. The opening ceremony takes place next Friday.

“I wish I could run around in the (athletes’) village catching Pokemon,” New Zealand soccer player Anna Green said Friday. “I just can’t get it on the phone. It’s fine, but it would have been something fun to do.”

What will she do instead? “Train,” she replied.

Niantic didn’t reply to a request for comment on when the game might be released in Brazil. And though social media rumors point to a Sunday release for the game, similar rumors in Japan resulted in heightened expectations and the sense of delay before its debut there last week.

This week, British canoer Joe Clarke tweeted — with a broken-hearted sad face — a screenshot of his player on a deserted map near the rugby, equestrian and modern pentathlon venues in Rio’s Deodoro neighborhood. The map was devoid of PokeStops — fictional supply caches linked to real-world landmarks. No Pokemon monsters to catch either: There was nary a Starmie nor a Clefairy to be found.

“Sorry guys no #pokemon in the Olympic Village,” tweeted French canoer Matthieu Peche, followed by three crying-face emoji. Getting equal billing in his Twitter stream was a snapshot of a letter of encouragement from French President Francois Hollande.

Players with the app already downloaded elsewhere appear to be able to see a digital map of their surroundings when they visit Rio. But without PokeStops or Pokemon, the game isn’t much fun. It would be like getting on a football field — soccer to Americans — but not having a ball to kick or goals to defend.

Many competitors in the athletes’ village took it in stride, though. Canadian field hockey player Matthew Sarmento said it would give him more time to meet other athletes. But he would have welcomed Pokemon during downtime in competition, adding that “sometimes it’s good to take your mind off the important things and let yourself chill.”

Athletes might not get Pokemon, but they’ll have access to 450,000 condoms, or three times as many as the London Olympics. Of those, 100,000 are female condoms. Officials deny that it’s a response to the Zika virus, which has been linked to miscarriages and birth defects in babies born to women who have been infected.

In Pokemon countries like the U.S., PokeStops are being used to attract living, breathing customers. In San Francisco, for example, dozens of bars, restaurants and coffee shops have set up lures that attract rare Pokemon, along with potential new patrons looking to catch them.

That’s presumably one reason why Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes — plagued by a host of bad news from player robberies to faulty plumbing — urged Niantic investor Nintendo to release the game in Brazil.

“Everybody is coming here. You should also come!” Paes wrote in Portuguese on his Facebook page , adding the hashtag #PokemonGoNoBrasil — “Pokemon Go” in Brazil.

His post generated responses such as this: “The aquatic Pokemon died with superbugs.”

Paes didn’t respond to requests for interviews.

One video circulating virally, with more than 3.5 million views, shows one fan identifying himself as Joel Vieira questioning how Brazil can host the Olympics but not Pokemon.

“I can’t play! I am not allowed to know how it really feels to see the little animals on my cell phone,” he said on the video . “Because we don’t have it in Brazil, yet. But we are having the Olympics.”

The Olympics kick off next Friday. Will Pikachu be there to witness it? The world is watching with baited Poke-breath.

MORE: Not everyone unhappy with Olympic Village