2014 Paralympics come to close

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
SOCHI, Russia -- Triumphant in the midst of global condemnation, Vladimir Putin clinked his champagne flute with leading sports officials, toasting the success of his pet project in Sochi.

Under chandeliers in ornate surroundings, the wine was flowing over lunch during the Paralympics this week as the Russian president saluted the transformational effect of his nation's six-week sporting extravaganza. For Putin, the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics were a validation of modern Russia's place on the world stage and "our invariably kind attitude toward friends."

But between the Olympians leaving the Black Sea resort of Sochi last month and the Paralympians arriving, Putin became rapidly isolated in the international community as Russian forces took over Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, only 300 miles (480 kilometers) away.

The Paralympics closed Sunday night with a patriotic, high-tempo ceremony attended by Putin just as voting ended in a referendum in Crimea, denounced in the West as illegitimate, on whether it should secede from Ukraine and seek annexation by Russia.

Although Ukraine backed off from boycotting the Paralympics, the crisis afflicting their homeland remained on the minds of athletes competing in Russia. In protest, Ukrainian parathletes covered their medals during podium ceremonies.

"That is how we show our protest and disagreement that our country could be divided and part of it could be excluded from Ukraine," said Iuliia Batenkova, who won six medals in Sochi including one gold. "Crimea is my motherland, where I was born, and of course I worry about it. I want peace."

Ukraine Paralympic Committee President Valeriy Sushkevych on Sunday decried what he called Russian "aggression" in his country and said hoped that Putin "recognizes the danger of what we call war."

Russia's intervention in a neighboring country seemed to be at odds with the message it intended in this $50 billion-plus rebranding exercise -- that of a nation which had moved on since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. But Putin's government remains convinced that the successful transformation of Sochi -- once a decaying Soviet-era resort -- into a world-class tourist hotspot will override the current diplomatic tensions.

"The new Russia is a Russia that is capable of carrying out large-scale projects, capable of creating modern infrastructure in a record short timescale, both in terms of sports and the rest of society," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak told The Associated Press in Sochi. "The new Russia is a Russia that open to the whole world."

That's the impression some visitors had after the high-profile Winter Olympics -- but it could be a rapidly shifting vision.

(Read full post)

Video: Latest on Oscar Pistorius trial

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12

Matt Gutman reports from Pretoria, South Africa, with the latest news in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial:


Sleeping ManJonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

SOCHI, Russia -- It took me nearly three weeks, but I found the strangest place Friday afternoon, and it couldn't have been any more needed. Or bizarre.

Tucked away into a quiet corner on the second floor of the Main Press Center is the "Relaxation Room," a place for writers, photographers and broadcasters to at worst escape the Olympic grind and at best grab a few minutes of shuteye before shuffling off to another event.

Early Friday afternoon, barely functioning on five hours of sleep after Thursday night's thrilling women's hockey gold-medal game, I desperately needed a recharge. I grabbed a building map and made way to the place I had long heard about but never before visited. There it was: Relaxation Room. The only sign on the door said no cell phones. I paced in the hallway before opening the massive metal door.

What I found was darkness. Complete and total darkness. Like I can't-see-three-feet-in-front-of-my-eyes darkness. I stood there, allowing the door to close behind me, trying to figure out what to do. I couldn't see a thing. But I could hear snoring and the rustling of clothes as people tossed and turned. It was creepy.

Where were these people that I couldn't see? I worried that if I meandered my way through this wall of darkness, I might trip over somebody or worse yet, crawl into a cot that was already occupied. (Imagine that: "Oh, I'm sorry for laying on top of you. Didn't see you sleeping there.") I bailed. I headed back to my workstation, set my head into my folded arms and tried to sleep there. No chance. So I trudged back to the Relaxation Room, flipping on my phone, hoping the light from the screen would illuminate a path to an open cot.

It worked. When I lied down, I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep. But my mind couldn't stop thinking about how odd this all was. I mean, when was the last time you've slept in a room with 20 strangers from various countries throughout the world?

What exactly is the proper protocol in a communal nap room? Can I take my shoes off? Are there blankets? If there are blankets, would I even want one? And why is it so damn dark? I can't even see my feet.

Then perhaps the most troubling thought of all entered my head: Over the course of the last month, how many people had laid on this exact same cot, in this exact same spot? How many of them had fallen asleep and drooled where my cheek now rested? This was disgusting.

A few feet away, one man snored with the force of a small hurricane. In another corner, another person kept mumbling -- "mmmm ... mmmm ... mmmm" -- and I don't think they were listening to the Crash Test Dummies. And then there was the rustling. The constant reminder that yes, in fact, I was trying to sleep in a room with some 20 other people I didn't know and couldn't see.

But I was so exhausted I didn't care. I curled up into a tiny ball and tried to clear my head. Eventually I crashed. Every couple minutes, the door would swing open and another unsuspecting soul would meet the black curtain. The smart ones would pull out a cell phone and find an open cot. The weak ones would bail. Each time the door opened, those of us trying to sleep were greeted by a beam of light from the outside world. Let this happen to you more than once and you quickly learn to turn your back to the door.

For the next 90 minutes, this was my life. Sleep, squirm, shush and repeat. The shushing came when someone tried to talk, whisper, rustle excessively or when a cell phone rang. (C'mon, do you not see the "no cell phones" sign on the door? Do you not have a silent button? We're sleeping here, people!)

Eventually, the commotion was all too much and I woke up. In the end, I probably collected close to an hour of actual sleep. But I felt like a new man. At least for a couple hours. Later that night, sitting at the Iceberg Arena for the final night of short-track speedskating, I had one thought: Man, I'm tired. I could really use a nap.

Jamaica keeps bobsled faith

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
SOCHI, Russia -- Jamaica will not compete in the four-man bobsled this weekend but it was represented in the two-man competition here. And team president Chris Stokes says the country not only will be back in 2018, it could be on the podium.

“Within the next four years, I expect to have an athlete on World Cup podium and maybe an Olympic medal in four to eight years,’’ he said. “And I mean that sincerely.’’

[+] EnlargeJAM-1 sled
AP Photo/Michael SohnThe Jamaican bobsled team gained fame from the movie "Cool Runnings."
Stokes might be sincere but that would be an amazing accomplishment, even if Usain Bolt was pulling the sled as well. Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon finished last in the two-man this week.

Stokes was on the original 1988 Jamaican team that inspired the movie, “Cool Runnings,’’ and turned the squad into a world-wide cultural phenomenon. Which is interesting considering that Jamaica is not the only warm-weather country competing in the sport.

“People talk about Jamaica being this warm-weather country in the Caribbean. But when I entered the sport in 1988, I came and saw warm weather countries,’’ Stokes said. “I saw Mexico, I saw Puerto Rico. I saw the U.S. Virgin Islands. But the brand Jamaica is so strong that it represented something else and people took to it.

“I think it’s important for Olympics to be world wide. When our sprinters go to the Summer Olympics, we don’t say, ‘Why is this Swedish guy or this Austrian guy here to run a 10.5 in the 100?’ It’s the Olympics, it’s participation. The appeal of the Winter Olympics is going to depend on its appeal globally, not just for cold weather countries. And we’re working very hard on that.’’

Jamaica competed in the Olympics from 1988 to 2002 but failed to qualify in 2006 and 2010. Much of that was due to a lack of funding in a sport that is very, very expensive. Even when it qualified for these Games, it still needed to raise money in a hurry to cover the expenses. And it did so, receiving enough money within mere days.

“Funding was the hardest thing,’’ Watts said. “In the end, we got funding from our friends and fans. I’m so happy they made it possible. We were able to show the world, that Jamaica is still alive.’’

When it comes to bobsled, however, Jamaica has more support and popularity beyond the island than on it.

“Our coverage is much greater overseas than in Jamaica,’’ Stoke said. “It is a business problem in Jamaica. I’ve been a little perplexed on this. I’ve been talking to a lot of companies about sponsoring this and they say, 'How do we connect our product to people who watch the team?' ’’

Stokes pointed to the team fundraising campaign that netted more than $30,000 in two days and eventually more than $100,000 from people in every U.S. state and 52 countries as evidence that this “should be an easy problem to solve.”

“They need to have more confidence we’re here and here to stay and are serious athletes,’’ he said. “I’m confident we will have a lot more stable, long-term funding rather than just trying to save the day from week to week.’’

Quick facts: Going for gold

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
Ugh, can we go best of three?

Not even going to pretend I watched that as an unbiased observer -- rather, I was shamelessly rooting for the U.S. -- but boy did the Americans get outplayed by Canada in Friday's 1-0 shutout.

Entering the semifinal with a tournament-leading 20 goals, the U.S. team's blistering offense was absolutely stymied by a brilliant performance from Canada's defensive corps. The U.S. just couldn't get to the front of the net and had so few second chances that Canadian goaltender Carey Price didn't look very taxed as he turned away all 31 shots faced.

What a disappointing day for USA hockey, especially after some great performances earlier this tournament. Despite an incredible performance from U.S. netminder Jonathan Quick, the Americans' meager offensive attack and inability to a sustain the forecheck will leave them competing for bronze Saturday.

Absolutely no question that Canada dominated the game Friday. I'll let my Canadian colleagues praise the resplendent play of their countrymen while I sulk in bitter disappointment the rest of the day.

Gold Medal Game: Sweden-Canada, Sunday at 7 a.m. ET

  • Sweden and Canada played for the gold medal in 1994 with the Swedes coming out on top.
  • The two countries last faced each other in the Olympics in 2002. Sweden won.
  • Canada has not won back-to-back gold medals since 1948 and 1952.
  • Sweden won gold in 2006 and 1994.
  • Henrik Lundqvist has played every minute of the tournament, posting a .951 save percentage.
  • Carey Price has a .963 save percentage.
  • Erik Karlsson has four goals and four assists for the Swedes.
  • Drew Doughty leads Canada with four goals and two assists.

Bronze Medal Game: Finland-United States, Saturday at 10 a.m. ET

  • Finland and the U.S. last met in 2010 with the Americans winning 6-1.
  • The United States is 2-1-0 against Finland in the NHL era of the Olympics.
  • Finland has won bronze in three of the past five Olympics.
  • The Americans have not played in the bronze medal game since losing in 1992. They won their only bronze medal in 1936.
  • Phil Kessel leads the U.S. with five goals and three assists in the tournament.
  • The Finns had the worst penalty kill at the Olympics (6-for-10).
  • Mikael Granlund leads Finland with three goals and one assist.
Information from TSN's Devin Gibson was used in this report.

Watch: U.S. women talk after OT loss to Canada

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21

U.S. coach Katey Stone, captain Meghan Duggan and Amanda Kessel talk about their overtime loss against Canada:


Start list for tonight's free skate

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20

SOCHI, Russia -- The start list for Thursday's women's free skate at the Olympics:

Group 1
1. Park So Youn, South Korea
2. Brooklee Han, Australia
3. Gabrielle Daleman, Canada
4. Elizaveta Ukolova, Czech Republic
5. Anne Line Gjersem, Norway
6. Nicole Rajicova, Slovakia

Group 2
7. Kaetlyn Osmond, Canada
8. Elene Gedevanishvili, Georgia
9. Kim Haejin, South Korea
10. Kanako Murakami, Japan
11. Zhang Kexin, China
12. Mao Asada, Japan

Group 3
13. Li Zijun, China
14. Mae Berenice Meite, France
15. Akiko Suzuki, Japan
16. Valentina Marchei, Italy
17. Polina Edmunds, San Jose, Calif.
18. Nathalie Weinzierl, Germany

Group 4
19. Yulia Lipnitskaya, Russia
20. Carolina Kostner, Italy
21. Adelina Sotnikova, Russia
22. Gracie Gold, El Segundo, Calif.
23. Ashley Wagner, Alexandria, Va.
24. Kim Yuna, South Korea

Quick facts: USA vs. Czech Republic

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
USA vs Czech Republic, noon ET
Two teams last met at the Olympics in 1998
The Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia have won 5 straight at the Olympics vs. Team USA
Team USA last beat Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia at the Olympics in 1980
3-3 in past 6 quarterfinals games, won in 2010, have not won back-to-back quarterfinals in past 6
2/8 on the power play, 8/9 on the penalty-kill
Jonathan Quick .944 save percentage
Phil Kessel (4G, 3A), led preliminary round in points
Czech Republic:
Finished 7th in 2 of past 3 Olympics, won bronze in 2006
4/17 on the power plan, 8/10 on the penalty-kill
Ondrej Pavelec .923 save percentage
Tomas Plekanec (1G, 3A), Marek Zidlicky (2G, 2A)
SOCHI, Russia -- U.S. forward David Backes might be hard on opposing players at this Olympic tournament -- we recall at one point during the Russia game on Saturday, Backes seemed to have both hands wrapped around Russian defenseman Fedor Tyutin's throat and was giving him a good throttling along the boards -- but he's got a soft spot for animals.

The St. Louis Blues' captain and his wife started the charity Athletes for Animals back home, and with hundreds of stray dogs roaming the Olympic areas in Sochi, he and some of the other athletes competing here are exploring the complicated adoption process of taking a few of those dogs back to North America.

"They kind of were portrayed a little bit as rabid animals that were dangerous," Backes said after the U.S.' practice Tuesday. "I don't know if anyone's seen that out of those animals. I think you've seen a lot of friendly, smart street dogs that have perhaps have had a tough life and had to find ways to get food and shelter and water and all that good stuff.

"For us to be able to give them a chance for a forever home and kind of live in that lap of luxury that a lot of dogs in North America have, if we can do that for a few of them and give them that little reprieve, it's a great opportunity for those dogs."

It would also go a long way to helping educate people globally about North Americans treat their animals.

"And maybe that's contagious as well," he said.

Backes and some of his U.S. teammates have heard from other athletes, not necessarily just those competing for the U.S.

"[W]e've kind of been able to network with some of the other wives and families, even if they're wearing different colors ... we've got some of the wives from Slovenia and Canada and all the different teams," Backes said. "That said, if there's anything we can help to get some of these dogs home, financially, put our voice out there, whatever, they're willing to do that.

"I think that's going to continue when we get back to the States to continue the messaging and continue to educate people on companion animals and all the things that go into ownership responsibilities and adoption and all that other good stuff."

Watch: Bode Miller on his super-G bronze

February, 16, 2014
Feb 16

Bode Miller on his emotional bronze-medal win in Sunday's super-G:


Olympic tournament: Who plays who next?

February, 16, 2014
Feb 16
The top four seeds get an automatic bye to the quarterfinals. The remaining eight countries play a qualifying round game on Tuesday with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals and the loser eliminated from the tournament. The schedule for the qualifying round games will not be announced until Monday.

1. Sweden
2. USA
3. Canada
4. Finland
5. Russia
6. Switzerland
7. Czech Republic
8. Slovenia
9. Austria
10. Slovakia
11. Latvia
12. Norway

  • Sweden plays winner of Slovenia-Austria
  • USA plays winner of Czech Republic-Slovakia
  • Canada plays winner of Switzerland-Latvia
  • Finland plays winner of Russia-Norway
  • Winner of Sweden/Slovenia-Austria vs. winner of Finland/Russia-Norway
  • Winner of USA/Czech Republic-Slovakia vs. winner of Canada/Switzerland-Latvia

Katey StoneAP Photo/Petr David JosekKatey Stone: 'You're either going to take the moment or it's going to take you. You have to make that decision.'

SOCHI, Russia -- When asked on Sunday about the mental approach of the U.S. women's hockey team on the eve of its semifinal showdown against Sweden, forward Hilary Knight hardly minced words.

"I'd hate to be the other team right now," Knight said.

Knight's confidence comes from the way her team has responded to its 3-2 preliminary-round loss to Canada on Wednesday. Two days after that defeat, U.S. coach Katey Stone lit into her team during a 45-minute video session -- the longest of the season. Stone pointed out countless mistakes the team made against the Canadians. The session was brutal. It was honest. It was direct. And it was needed.

"At this level, you have to be personally accountable for your own play," Stone said Sunday. "I think you create accountability and people need to be more ready. You're either going to take the moment or it's going to take you. You have to make that decision."

Stone, Knight and several others from the team who spoke to the media after Sunday's practice admitted that, for whatever reason, the entire team wasn't ready to play against Canada. They let the Canadians control the puck in the neutral zone. They lost 50/50 battles. After the players watched film on their own Thursday, Stone gathered the team before practice Friday for what she called a "strong discussion."

"It was painful to watch at times because you're watching yourself and you're like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe we did that,'" Knight said. "It's so uncharacteristic of what we've done the last few months."

But Knight added that session was extremely beneficial.

"It was great," she said. "I hate losing, but it definitely instilled a little more oomph into our step. It made us come back to the drawing board and say, 'Hey, we need to play our style of hockey and show the world what we're all about.'"

Stone said her team has responded to the session with three great practices. She likes the team's approach off the ice and is confident they will be ready Monday. But she will not know for certain until the game starts.

(Read full post)


SOCHI, Russia -- It didn't matter the country or the venue -- the T.J. Oshie shootout spectacle was the talk of the hockey world, if not the entire Olympics.

Oshie's stunning performance in the Americans' 3-2 shootout win against host Russia on Saturday, when he scored on four of six shootout attempts, saw his Twitter followers explode from 90,000 to 167,000. He also did an interview with Al Michaels ("Do you believe in miracles?!").

Oshie's performance also brought back memories for Team Canada center Jonathan Toews.

The Chicago Blackhawks captain once upon a time scored three shootout goals for Canada in a World Junior Championships against the United States in a semifinal game in Sweden.

"Yeah, he put on a show. That was pretty cool to watch him" Toews told reporters after Team Canada's morning skate Sunday. "Not only scoring four out of six and probably could have gone six for six had he gotten a bounce on the two that he missed. But just watching him with a smile on his face and how relaxed he looked, I think he was almost 100-percent sure every time that he was going to score.

"Pretty amazing with that pressure to send that same guy out six times in a row. Even if the guy's automatic, it takes a lot of confidence from the coaches to put a guy like that over the boards that many times. He's a great kid and a pretty cool moment in his career, I'm sure."

Some of the Canadian players attended a curling match Saturday and then watched the U.S.-Russia game from the lounge in the athletes' village. Watching the tension-filled game made Toews and his teammates wonder how they would react should the same circumstances present themselves at some point in the tournament.

"It's scary to think about, but who knows? I'll be ready for whatever," Toews said. "I know I've had a lot of confidence in the shootouts this year and in the past as well, so if I'm called upon, you just got to go down there thinking -- find any way you can to score. If we happen to find ourselves in that situation, I think a lot of guys would be ready for that chance.

"I think for us to watch that, we know we might have to go something like that pretty soon so we've got to be ready for
that challenge, ready for that excitement. You can't win a gold medal without going through a few nail-biters like that, so we've got to be ready for it. That's what it's all about."

So, just how deep is Toews' bag of tricks if he does get pressed into shootout duty? The two-time Stanley Cup winner and member of Canada's gold-medal team four years ago wasn't tipping his hand.

"I can't comment on that now," he said. "You'll have to wait and find out I guess."

Oshie rewards Poile's faith in him

February, 15, 2014
Feb 15
videoT.J. Oshie, the hero of Team USA's thrilling shootout win over Russia, might not have been in Sochi at all had it not been for his skill in the shootout.

Oshie was one of a handful of players, including Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks, who fought for the final forward spots on Team USA leading up to the Olympics.

ESPN.com's Scott Burnside was embedded with GM David Poile and the other American decision makers throughout the selection process, and his report from inside contains a prophetic statement from Poile:

As he has throughout, (Blackhawks GM Stan) Bowman speaks on behalf of his player, Saad.

"I think he's a more versatile player than Oshie," Bowman says.

"I think he's got more to his game than Oshie. He's like a young version of [Marian] Hossa. He's such a strong guy. He's just hard to handle. He's smart. He's a guy the coaches would love," the Chicago GM says.

Poile, meanwhile, knows Oshie and likes his personality.

"Oshie's got that shootout move," he adds.

Burnside also reported that the Team USA coaching staff wanted Oshie, in part for his versatility and chemistry with David Backes, as well as his shootout skills.

It appears they put their faith in the right player.

Watch: Melrose on Russia-USA classic

February, 15, 2014
Feb 15

Barry Melrose breaks down T.J. Oshie's heroics in the United States' hard-fought 3-2 shootout win against Russia: