Updated 1:50 p.m.
After weeks of waiting for travel arrangements to come together, Alex Ovechkin announced Thursday on Twitter that he will make the trip to Olympia, Greece to be the first Russian to carry the Olympic torch after it is lit there Sunday.
“I’m very excited and I’ve been waiting this day since I get the news they invite me because it was pretty hard to do that with the schedule and all that stuff,” Ovechkin said after practicing with the Capitals. “It’s very big honor for me to be the first guy.”
Thanks Sochi2014 – Coca Cola – Coaches – Teammates – Ted to make my dream to carry Olympic Torch!! See u in Greece!!!!!!!!!!
— Alex Ovechkin (@ovi8) September 26, 2013
Ovechkin, 28, is the face of Russian hockey and he will be showcased throughout the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He was originally invited by the Russian Federation to participate in the torch lighting ceremony in August, but knew that his attendance couldn’t take away from his responsibilities with the Capitals.
He immediately sought permission from the organization to take part in the ceremony, and the Capitals understand that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the star winger.
“He might have a little jetlag, but big picture, we let our players play in the Olympics for a reason, which is obviously a unique thing and it’s very risky. But we let them do it,” Coach Adam Oates said. “Globally for hockey, it’s a great thing and our team’s got to survive that just like you’ve got to survive everything else.”
Said Ovechkin: “Thanks to them. Since day one, I talk to my boys and my coaching staff, I talk to George [McPhee] and everybody say ‘Yeah, if you have a chance to go there you have to go, because it’s a very important thing for you.’”
While the ceremony takes place two days before the Capitals are scheduled to open the regular season in Chicago, Ovechkin will not miss the contest in order to participate. Ovechkin is slated to play in Friday’s penultimate preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center, and he’ll make the roughly nine-hour flight to Greece that night. He will miss Washington’s final preseason contest at Chicago on Saturday, but Oates said earlier this month Ovechkin wasn’t scheduled to play in that contest regardless.
After taking part in the torch ceremony on Sunday, Ovechkin will return to Washington that same day. He will participate in practice with the team on Monday, Sept. 30, before flying with the Capitals to Chicago for the opener.
Oates has made his opinion on NHL players participating in the Olympics well known, but he understands that the significance of representing one’s country carries significant weight to this era of NHLers. He also has an appreciation for Ovechkin’s place as a cultural icon in Russia after visiting Washington’s captain this summer.
“When I was over there the president called him. Obama doesn’t call me too often,” Oates deadpanned.
The torch relay will travel through all 83 Russian regions, visiting 2,900 towns and it’s possible that Ovechkin won’t be the only member of his family taking part in the journey. Ovechkin mentioned there’s a possibility his mother, Tatyana, who is a two-time gold medalist in basketball, might carry the torch in a later stage of the race.
No matter what, though, Ovechkin’s participation in the torch relay and his prominent role in the Sochi Olympics is an experience that will rank among the top honors in his athletic career.
“This is probably the biggest event in my life,” Ovechkin said. “It’s huge for us. You can ask any guy who’s been in the Olympics; it’s unbelievable time. My mom was Olympic champion in Moscow back in the days and she told me it was unbelievable stuff, unbelievable things going on there. Everybody was pretty excited, people was pretty happy. It’s that kind of situation that you just want it to be.”