Nice little piece on the Russian hockey team moving up the rankings after blanking Sweden 5-0.
I've tried to explain to some Russians why Americans don't care too much about the Olympics. Typically, our best athletes aren't competing in Olympic events; they have cultivated their skills to become professional baseball, football, basketball, or hockey players. And when our professional athletes do compete in basketball or hockey, typically the best ones aren't sent (due to multi-million dollar contracts and risk of injury) and those who do go seem less passionate.
A quote from the SI article above:
That's the difference between the Russians and the North American teams in the tournament, especially Canada. Canada first focused on the ring that came with the Stanley Cup; the Russians focused on the rings of the Olympic movement. Despite the failures of the past 14 years, Hockey Night in Turin stirs the Russian soul.
"I think everyone dreamed when we were growing up young guys," winger Ilya Kovalchuk said. "The Stanley Cup is huge, but Olympic Games, you play for the country. Millions of people in your country celebrate with you. I think for Russians, this is the most important win - the Olympic Games. Now a lot of [NHL] GMs say they don't want you to go, you might get injured. But it's our dream to play for the national team. And they can't stop us."
And from a Dan Wetzel article from yesterday:
TURIN, Italy - After Latvia and the United States tied in men's hockey Wednesday, after the passionate Latvian fans waved flags and danced in the aisles, after the vast majority of remote controls in the U.S. tuned into American Idol, Arturs Irbe summed up the entire thing.
"You can say that this probably means more to us than to the American team," the former NHL and current Latvian goalie said.
Don't stop there, Arturs. It isn't just the American team that may not care all that much about its performance here at the Winter Olympics. It's all of America itself.
Mr. Wetzel goes on about the failures of the NHL and how Americans just aren't caring about hockey anymore. But I actually think it is deeper than that. The large professional sports environment, with its multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement dollars, actually poisons the well for the US in these international competitions. No dollars are on the line for these guys, and they have no sense of national pride being on the line either.
In those Olympic sports where going pro is not an option, the US still does quite well (more gold medals at this time than any other nation). But Americans just care less and less about showing up other countries. There are no real rivalries, the games come only every 4 years, the faces change at every Olympics.
Maybe for a Russian this is difficult to understand - but if you lived in the US and know the passion behind Red Sox vs. Yankees or Bears vs. Packers - you see the Olympics is just a pale shadow.