SOCHI, Russia — A few days ago here, in a large conference room named for the Russian writer Aleksandr Pushkin, a man named Vladislav Tretiak was asked how long it took him to get over the Americans defeating his hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. If the name is unfamiliar to you 20-something Sidney Crosbyites, get on the Google machine. Tretiak is a legendary former goaltender for the Soviet Union hockey team, a Hockey Hall of Famer and the current president of the Russian Hockey Federation. He was also removed after the first period of that famed Miracle on Ice game, a coaching decision that goes down as one of the managerial blunders of all time.
“Let me tell you this,” said Tretiak, with 32 television cameras looking on. “In 1984 we were able to rectify our mistakes and get gold.”
The audience applauded at that line, at least those of us not in the Western press, before Tretiak showed some deft diplomacy.
“We have to give it up to the American team in 1980,” Tretiak said. “ It was miracle, a good lesson the Americans taught us. You have to respect your competitors. We don’t have that issue during the Olympics.”
The Cold War is dead, even with the current geopolitical battles between Moscow and Washington. These are different times on the ice too, as millionaires will face millionaires Saturday (two-thirds of the Russian hockey team plays in the NHL) when the U.S. and Russia meet at 7:30 a.m. (The game will air live on NBC Sports Network across all U.S. time zones). But this meeting still matters to Americans, especially those of a generation who can recall the game’s final moments and the now-iconic call by announcer Al Michaels (who will be part of NBC Sports Network pregame coverage in Sochi).
For the Russian hockey team, which has the same pressure Canada had four years ago to win on its home soil, it is the first major test of the Olympic tournament. The Sochi hockey showdown is the highlight of a day where medals will be handed out in alpine skiing (women’s Super-G), cross-country (women’s 4x5 relay), ski jumping (men’s large hill), skeleton (men), speedskating (men’s 1500) and short track (men’s 1000 and women’s 1500).
What to watch (all times in Eastern Standard Time)
• WOMEN'S SKIING: American Julia Mancuso, who won bronze in the downhill, returns to Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre for the women’s Super-G (2 a.m.). But the favorites for the race are Slovenia’s Tina Maze, who shared gold with Dominque Gisin of Switzerland in the downhill, and Swiss star Lara Gut, who took bronze in the downhill. Maze and Gisin can become the second women to win the downhill and Super-G at the same Olympic Winter Games following Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria in 2006. Anna Fenninger of Austria is also a contender to watch.
• WOMEN'S CROSS-COUNTRY: Norway is unbeaten in more than four years in the cross-country women’s 4x5k classical free relay (5 a.m.). The last time Norway lost came in November 2009 when Sweden won a world cup relay in Beitostoelen, Norway. Russia, Sweden and the U.S. will also contend.
• CURLING: The round robin continues with the U.S. women against Sweden (10 a.m.) and four men’s matches including Canada-Great Britain (5 a.m.)
• WOMEN'S HOCKEY: Finland will play Sweden in the first quarterfinal at 3 a.m. The Fins were bronze medalists in Vancouver and have arguably the world’s best goalie in Noora Raty. Russia, which is undefeated in three games, plays winless Switzerland at 7:30 a.m.
• MEN'S HOCKEY: Along with the U.S.-Russia tussle (7:30 a.m.), the day's slate includes Slovakia-Slovenia (3 a.m), Switzerland-Czech Republic (noon) and Sweden-Latvia (noon). Both the U.S. and Russia won their opening games: The USA defeated Slovakia 7-1 while Russia beat Slovenia 5-2. I highly recommend my colleague Michael Farber’s memories of covering the 1980 Miracle on Ice game.
• MEN'S SKI JUMPING: The men’s large hill final comes Saturday, with the final round starting at 1:35 p.m. Poland’s Kamil Stoch won the normal hill event on Sunday but was injured in a crash on Wednesday. The AP reported he suffered a bloodied nose but walked off the hill after having a brace put onto his left arm. He can become only the third ski jumper to achieve an Olympic double in the individual events. Slovenia’s Peter Prevc and Anders Bardal of Norway will also contend for medals. Simon Ammann of Switzerland is the defending champion from Vancouver.
• MEN'S SKELETON: Racer Martins Dukurs is Latvia’s most popular athlete, a three-time sportsman of the year in that country, a silver medalist in Vancouver, and SI’s pick to win gold. But Dukurs (1:52.55) currently sits second behind Russia's Alexander Tretiakov after two heats at the Sanki Sliding Center. Tretiakov’s 1:51.99 is 0.56 ahead of second-place Martins and 1.59 ahead of American John Daly. Fellow American Matt Antoine is in fourth place. The third heat comes 9:45 a.m., followed by the final run. The competition starts at 11:15 a.m.
• MEN'S LONG-TRACK SPEEDSKATING: Russia’s Denis Yuskov is SI’s pick to win the 1500 race (8:30 a.m.), but all U.S. eyes will be on American Shani Davis, who has two silvers in this event and is coming off an eighth place finish in the 1000. Koen Verweij of the Netherlands will also be a contender.
• SHORT-TRACK SPEEDSKATING: Two gold medals will be handed out. In the women’s 1500, South Korea’s 16-year-old star Shim Suk-Hee duels with countrywoman Kim-A-lang. Canada’s Valerie Matais is also a contender. In the men’s 1000, Canada’s Charles Hameln, who took gold in the 500, is one of the favorites along with Russia’s Viktor Ahn and China’s Wu Dajing. The competition runs from 5-7:25 a.m. Americans Chris Creveling. Eddy Alvarez and J.R. Celski will all race in the 1000 quarterfinals, which will be held at 5:43 a.m. The finals occur afterward.
Tweet of the Day
By the Numbers
25 -- Career Olympic games for Czech Republic forward Jaromir Jagr, who scored in a 4-2 win over Latvia on Friday.
3 -- Number of times Russia and the US have met in men’s hockey at the Olympic Games. Both teams have a win, a loss and a tie. Russia defeated the U.S. 5-4 the last time the teams played, at the Turin Games in 2006.
6/5 -- Odds, according to BovadaLv, on American skier Mikaela Shiffin to win the women’s slalom.
Around the Web
Out of The Miracle's shadow (By Anton Troianovski and Sharon Terlep, Wall Street Journal) -- Strong look at what the Miracle On Ice game means to Russians today, if anything.
Figure skating offers more physical challenges than ice hockey (By Sally Jenkins, Washington Post) -- True? You decide.
Hockey brings a Russian boy home (By Anton Troianovski, Wall Street Journal) -- From the author: “[Tretiak] is also a member of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. He belongs to the pro-Kremlin United Russia party and voted for the law banning U.S. adoptions of Russian children. When people root for the Russian hockey team in the coming days, will they be rooting for the politics that Tretiak represents. I've been avoiding the question myself, in part because it isn't easy, and in part because in Sochi I am a journalist and not a fan.”
Through fog of complaints, Sochi’s light shines (By Jim Heinz, Associated Press) -- An AP writer based in Russia explains the long-term impact of the Games.
Unable to compete, Lysacek still finding joy in Sochi (By Peter Schrager, Fox Sports.com) -- The author spends some time with the 2010 Olympic men’s figure skating champ.