Sochi Olympics Ice Hockey Men

Why did Russia’s hockey team fall flat in Sochi?


For hockey (and really sports) fans in Sochi, the reaction to Russia bowing out of the Olympic tournament following a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Finland can be summarized as such:

source: AP
Credit: AP

The rest of us can at least ask questions like “How?” and “Why?” Here are the potential roots of Russia’s demise, with copious amounts of help from Pro Hockey Talk.

The pressure

Playing in your host country can be a big advantage … unless it creates enough pressure that players start thinking too much. Alex Ovechkin acknowledged the anxiety but ultimately shrugged it off to NBC’s Joe Posnanski before the Olympics started.

“Of course there’s pressure,” Ovechkin said. “It’s your whole country.”

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When Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to calm people down about a controversial goal, you know a country takes a sport seriously.

The roster

source: AP
Credit: AP

Everyone has their own view of what “the best team possible” is, but some countries must satisfy more “political” issues. Like, say, acknowledging the Russian-centric KHL (widely considered the second most prominent hockey league to the NHL).

While some of these players have appeared in the NHL before, it’s still notable how many players were plucked from an inferior league (let’s exclude Ilya Kovalchuk for obvious talent-related reasons):

Alexander Yeryomenko, Ilya Nikulin, Yevgeni Medvedev, Viktor Tikhonov, Alexander Svitov, Alexander Popov, Alexei Tereshenko and Alexander Radulov.

Radulov is talented – if wildly polarizing – in his own right, but maybe Russia put too much pressure on top players? Let’s not forget that depth players can make a big difference; a certain fellow named T.J. Oshie wasn’t a lock to make the U.S. roster by any means.

Goalie flip-flopping

If the Olympic tournament wasn’t such a speedy blur, one could almost imagine people taking sides with goalies Semyon Varlamov (#TeamVarly?) and Sergei Bobrovsky (#TeamBob). Russian head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov waffled between the two, including starting Varlamov in today’s elimination game after going with Bobrovsky in Tuesday’s do-or-die contest.

Naturally, Varlamov was pulled for Bobrovsky during Wednesday’s game.

The power play

With names like Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk available, you’d think that the Russian power play would be a nightmare. It was … but usually for the Russian team itself.

Their struggling power play unit was a storyline for much of the playoffs, even after an easy qualification playoff game against Norway.

Star failures

Fair or not, Russian players frequently get blamed in NHL playoff losses. Aside from the Malkin – Datsyuk – Radulov line and Kovalchuk, many Russian scorers would probably admit that they are disappointed with their tournament play. Others will … likely use harsher words.

(The word “choke” will almost undoubtedly be trotted out.)

Their opponents

It’s easy to beat up on Russia, but it’s not like they lost to bad teams. The U.S. is the defending silver medal winners from 2010 and Finland is a steady international threat (especially on larger ice surfaces). Some believe that Tuukka Rask is the best goalie in the world; he was in net for a Boston Bruins team that kept Malkin and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins from recording a single point in a 2013 playoff series, after all.


Whatever way you slice it, it’s difficult to overstate how much this failure hurts the Russian team and their country as a whole. It’s likely those involved will be soul-searching for many years following this resounding finish.

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.

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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.

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