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For Canadians, There Is No Second Place

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Web Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 1998; 12:40 p.m. EST

NAGANO, Feb. 17 — One by one, Canada's female hockey players bowed their heads to receive their silver medals, and one by one, they came up sobbing. From the moment of their 3-1 loss to the U.S. team in the Olympic gold medal game tonight, the Canadians looked not like silver medal winners, but rather like devastated losers.

When the buzzer sounded and the U.S. team erupted in celebration, Canada's women did not exchange the customary hugs of consolation or pats on the back. Instead, they slowly assembled in a line across the ice at Big Hat, leaning sullenly on their sticks, waiting to shake the hands of the Americans. They stood separately, each player suffering — clearly suffering — alone.

"It was a shock," said Canadian captain Stacy Wilson, eyes red from crying. "We had been going toward a dream, living a dream for so long, then it's over.

Canada had won the last four world championships, so its expectations were high. That's also why, as the U.S. women screamed and shouted with joy and the Finnish women — the bronze medalists — also celebrated, the Canadian women wore their silver medals like burdensome weights around their necks.

"I know I should be really proud of a silver medal, but when you know you can beat these guys — that's probably why it hurts the most," said Canadian forward France St.-Louis. "This is our first loss in a big event like that. It hurts."

Stymied by U.S. goalie Sarah Tueting, the Canadians could barely make a dent in the United States tonight. Only forward Danielle Goyette broke through with a power play goal in the third period.

"When we started out in September training together, our focus was on the gold," said Canadian forward Vicky Sunohara. "That's what we were training for, that's what we came here for. We won so many gold medals in the past, to receive a silver medal at the Olympics, it's tough to take. But just as we've been good winners, we have to be good losers."

When the Canadian team filed off the ice, Wilson couldn't take any more misery. She pulled her music box out of her locker, the one with the maple leaf emblem that plays "O Canada," and asked her teammates to gather around to sing the national anthem — the one, that is, that was not played during the medal ceremony.

"We didn't get to sing it on the ice, so I just said that I would really like it if we could sing in the locker room," Wilson said. "I was hoping we would be able to play it under happier circumstances."

Players said they stood up on the benches, holding hands, as they tried to make their way through the song. Most broke down crying, as they huddled together for the first time since the game ended.

"I don't think I got more than five words out," said forward Hayley Wickenheiser, with tears streaming down her cheeks. "But we've leaned on each other for support this whole year, through good and bad."

The Canadians offered hearty, if tear-choked, congratulations to the U.S. team, but they also were quick to add that they won't forget the tension that developed over the last year between the two rivals. A small scuffle broke out here was a heated exchange between Goyette and Americans Sandra Whyte and Shelley Looney.

"I don't really have anything against them," said St.-Louis. "But in the last game, I didn't really enjoy what I saw. There were a lot of cheap shots."

Most of the talk after the loss, however, was not about Canada's dislike of the U.S. team. Rather, it was about Canada's disdain for losing — even when it means winning a silver medal.

"Part of me feels as though we let a lot of people down," said Wickenroud.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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