With the future of the neighboring Ukraine hanging in the balance, it would be an 866-mile stretch of truth — the driving distance between Sochi and Kiev — to paint any Olympic defeat as earth-shattering or catastrophic.
Those type of leap-from-reality assertions, of course, do surface every quadrennial, especially in segments of the foreign press and within the great Frankenstein of social media.
"Is it a catastrophe?" Russian hockey coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov was asked after his team's quarterfinal loss to Finland.
See. Told you.
So for the record, what happened to the Team USA men's and women's ice hockey teams at Sochi were not catastrophes.
There were a pretty good kick in the short pants though, eh?
President Obama not only lost one case of beer in a bet with Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper. He lost two. The moose got us — or is that U.S.? — in both the X and Y chromosome. Forget the beer. By the time Team USA was falling apart in the third period Saturday, losing hope, losing discipline, eventually losing 5-0 to Finland in the bronze medal game, well, you could have sworn the American boys had gotten into the vodka, too.
Later he called the performance "unacceptable." Max Pacioretty, from New Canaan, was even more blunt, telling reporters, "We didn't show up. We let our country down."
They say there are two Olympics: One that takes place in the host city, the other, the story told on NBC. And when you multiply that by the number of events that have mushroomed from 39 to 96 in only 30 years since Sarajevo, hundreds of millions of people see any given Olympics in hundreds of ways. As a patriotic American, allow me to give a hearty salute to the X Games. Good grief. How many events can they invent where some kid in a glorified skateboard slides down a railing? Wait. I know the made-for-TV golden Olympic answer. Not enough.
So as the 2014 Olympics pull to a close Sunday — without the terrorist attack everyone predicts every four years [I still have my gas mask from Athens in 2004] — what will you remember? Is it the Dutch winning a staggering 23 medals in speed skating and their coach telling the U.S. we waste too much time on foolish sports like football? Or the Americans skating in mud and arguing about their suits? Is it the amazing 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin? Or the interview that made Bode Miller cry? Or Shaun White imploding? Or the virtuoso performance of Meryl Davis and violin-playing Charlie White? Or Lauryn Williams missing out by a tenth of a second on becoming the first woman in Olympic history to win summer and winter gold? Sochi's stray dogs? Bob Costas' eyes? Norway's indefatigable Marit Bjoergen and Ole Einar Bjorndalen? Norway's curling guys in their outrageous pants? Or Russian curler Anna Sidorova wearing anything she wants? Or is it the specter of another figure skating controversy?
I swore off Olympic figure skating as a competition when I covered the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games. With the inferno that burns after Russia's Adelina Sotnikova won the hometown gold over Yuna Kim, leading to nearly two million signatures on Change.org for an investigation and South Korea leveling an official protest, permit me this much:
I love Olympic figure skating as performance art and reality TV, a mix of ballet on PBS and "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" on E!, and Johnny Weir is an absolute hoot. Yet as a responsibly sanctioned competition? Not so much.
Actually, Scott Hamilton, 1984 gold medalist and TV analyst, hit on the biggest problem when he told the AP that it was never the scoring system that needed to be changed after the 2002 scandal. It's how the judges are selected. "Every sport out there has an affiliated association of officials," he said. "They are separate from the federation, and figure skating is hesitant to do that. It's a fundamental issue that leads to people having a hard time taking the results as results."
So give me Olympic hockey and more Olympic hockey. First off, we should sympathize with Islanders general manager Garth Snow for losing John Tavares for the rest of the season after he blew out his knee in Sochi. We shouldn't buy Snow's argument — and some NHL owners' — that we should stop sending NHL players. Yes, a disruption to the schedule is a pain, but injuries could just as easily happen with return to an off-season World Cup tournament. Injuries can happen anytime, anywhere. The Olympic payoff in international attention and rich, individual experience is just too good to stop.
For the women, it's the only chance at the big stage. And judging by the 4.9 million NBC viewers [Hartford-New Haven was eighth in ratings], the USA-Canada final was a smash. Let's be honest. The superior teams were guaranteed a silver medal by showing up. Yes, it was a magnificent game, all-time, and good for the sport. But here's some more truth. The U.S. blew it in the closing minutes of regulation and will take a 20-year gold medal drought to South Korea in 2018. They had a two-goal lead with 3:30 to go! Yes, Canada's first goal bounced in off Kacey Bellamy's knee and, yes, a shot at the empty net hit the post. But the Canadians ratcheted up the pressure and goalie Jessie Vetter put the puck on Marie-Philip Poulin's stick on the tying goal. She's only the best sniper in the world.
As far as the Jocelyne Lamoureux penalty for slashing goalie Shannon Szabados' pads, you saw the same call against the Canadian men in the semis against the U.S. Was it an overtime make-up call? I'd argue probably. I have no clue why Joy Tottman needed to make anything up on what had been a pretty nasty penalty on Canada. Yet as stupid as that rule appears to our North American eyes, it's the international rule. The Americans had been warned about it. And the cross-checking call on Hayley Wickenheiser's breakaway? Clearly it wasn't. Yet after I watched the replay in slow motion a bunch of times, it looked to me that Hilary Knight, who insisted the call was "bogus," caught Wickenheiser's skate with hers. Yes, I think it was a tripping penalty. Sorry. Tottman split the difference and didn't call a penalty shot. The Americans, in retrospect, would have taken one over a 4-on-3 power play that led to Poulin's winning goal. Room for argument? Yes. Heartbreaking? Absolutely.
Still, the Americans blew a two-goal led with 3:30 left. The cold, overarching truth is that Kevin Dineen took over a Canadian team in a mess in December and, what? You thought a Dineen team would quit?
The other cold, overarching truth is that after averaging five goals a game in round-robin, the high-flying American men scored zero in 120 minutes when it mattered. The hottest team the first week, considered by some as the best team, didn't even medal. The T.J. Oshie shootout goal against the Russians wasn't fool's gold. It turned out to be fool's bronze.
Jonathan Quick of Hamden was spectacular against the Canadians. The 1-0 score is a lie. It wasn't anything resembling equal. The Canadians, big, strong, deep, jelled at the right time. The giant line with Jamie Benn produced a goal. And while goalie Carey Price was very good, Canada controlled territorial play, its defense was air-tight and played with a cold dominance. If not for Quick it would have been 4-0.
Patrick Kane was a mess. Not only didn't he score a goal in the tournament, he missed two — two! — penalty shots against the Finns. The Americans showed up for the game Saturday. But after they gave up two quick goals in the second period, they began to wilt. You couldn't help but be happy for Teemu Selanne and admire the unrelenting work ethic of the Finns. But, man, Team USA didn't have one scoring opportunity in the third period. In frustration, they took stupid penalties. If they didn't outright quit, they sure as Hel-sinki fell apart.
As a Chicago billboard suggested before the USA-Canada showdown, "Loser Keeps Bieber." Terrible for the U.S., but not a catastrophe.