SOCHI, Russia — There is so much leftover from Thursday night’s utter devastation after the U.S. women gave up two goals in less than four minutes and lost to Canada in overtime in the gold medal game of the Olympic hockey tournament that I felt I should get some of it out.
I can’t remember a postgame interview scene in which a captain of a team, Meghan Duggan of the U.S., smudged tears away and broke down sobbing every three questions — until finally two reporters in the pack of eight interviewing Duggan began crying themselves. (I was almost there myself.)
“I couldn’t believe it,” Duggan told me Friday night when she and some of her teammates came to see the U.S. men play. “At one point I just started crying again and another reporter just started crying while I was talking and I was just like, ‘We should just end this, right?’ ”
I can’t remember an athlete like Kelli Stack continuing to talk with the media because she was afraid of the inconsolable sobbing that would overcome her once she rejoined her grieving teammates.
“The hardest part is going to be going in that locker room,” Stack said, sniveling. “I don’t know how it happened. I’m shocked.”
Ann Schleper tried to hold it together. But another reporter watched her as she got close to the locker room after the mixed zone interviews. The moment her feet passed over the door’s threshold, she unleashed a heaving, cathartic sob from the soul that could be heard in the press room another 50 yards away.
I’ve never seen so many women on a medals podium with tears of wrenching, deep sadness over their loss — instead of tears of joy for earning a silver medal.
Then there was the victor, Canada, the women they had been trying to beat in the Olympics since 1998, when the U.S. won their first and only gold medal at the Winter Games. They finally had their number, up 2-0. Even when it was 2-1, all the U.S. women had to do was play defense. The fact that Stack missed an empty-net goal that would have made it 3-1 and sealed the gold with 90 seconds left – until it hit the post and bounced away – was even more painful. Canada scored with less than a minute left to tie the game and forced overtime to make the miss even more crushing.
The Canadians infamously celebrated their 2010 win in Vancouver by lighting up stogies, sucking down Molson beer and jumping on the arena’s Zamboni, which got them in a lot of trouble at home for not representing their country with class after a win.
I spoke to Canadian Coach Kevin Dineen for a minute alone after the news conference, to ask if he felt badly for Team USA, unable to topple a great, resilient Canadian team that is 20-0 in the Olympics since losing the final to the U.S. in 1998.
“The Americans? Absolutely not,” Dineen said. “I wanted to pound them and pound them some more. And I would say that if it was my best man and he was on the other side. I wanted to bury ‘em.”
I’m not saying there was good and evil here. I’m not saying the Canadian women should not be revered for their resolve and ability to pull the thing out miraculously. I am saying whatever respect Canada really had for the American women barely came through at any juncture.
The most indelible image for me Thursday night was of the U.S. women bawling their eyes out as “We Are the Champions” played on a TV in the background of the mixed zone as Haley Wickenheiser and her teammates hammed it up for the cameras again.
When the media room attendant said she could not find the volume switch to turn it down, she was asked by a merciful group of reporters to unplug the darn thing from the wall so the American women didn’t have to hear or see it.
I would go into the officiating, but it’s useless. While Dineen and U.S. Coach Katey Stone both acknowledged the referees in the sport have not progressed like the players, the bottom line is an Olympic gold medal game – the most important game to date in the history of women’s hockey – deserved better than what led to Canada’s power-play goal in overtime that drained the life out of a team that was so close to their dream.
Would it salve the wound back home if somehow the U.S. men can win against Canada in about 30 minutes? For people that maybe casually tuned in and were crushed when the U.S. lost, maybe. But nothing will ever take the hurt away from the U.S. women who experienced that loss or their families or anyone involved in the sport in this country.
They will always have a hole in their souls from how they lost a gold medal. And I wish there could be something done to change that but there is not.
Sports and sporting events will never equate to life and death, of course. I’ve spent considerable time trying to make that point, sometimes to fanatics with deaf ears. But I will say this: sometimes it can still result in the agony of defeat.
And that’s what the U.S. women’s loss was: agony – pure agony.