I just spent a good chunk of my afternoon watching Olympic hockey and was cheering — occasionally loud enough for my neighbors to hear — for Russia.
As if NBC could sense how conflicted I was about this, they followed the game with a half-hour special on the Miracle on Ice, which was as seminal a moment for an American kid growing up during the Cold War as watching The Day After. I don’t think it was just those of us who grew up hockey fans who remember the story: fresh-faced college students from the US defeat the evil robots from the USSR, a victory with more symbolic value than probably ought to ever be placed on a sporting event.
And yet, 30 years — and bucketloads of changes in the international political scene — later, three insanely talented (and decidedly non-robotic) Russians are the stars of the show here in the capital city of the United States. Normally, this is not an issue; hockey is a fairly international sport, the Cold War is long over, and most NHL teams have players from a mix-and-match of cold places, more than a few of which were behind the Iron Curtain. Now that it’s the Olympics, though, it makes for loyalties that I, for one, never would have expected.
The reasons for this should be clear to anyone who has watched more than a minute or two of any game involving Canada or Russia in Vancouver this past week: Ovechkin vs. Crosby. Russian vs. Canadian. Capitals vs. Penguins. Two-time (and current) NHL MVP vs. 2009 Stanley Cup winner. Every time one of these two guys is on the ice, the comparisons to the other begin, and it seems like no one is neutral. I certainly am not. And so, because I am a Capitals fan, I want nothing out of this Olympics so much as to see Ovie standing on a higher level of the medal stand than Crosby.
Thus, I root for Russia, something that 30 years ago was absolutely inconceivable to me. But the world has changed; yesterday’s enemies are now selling out an arena halfway between the Capitol and the White House.
Feels a little like a miracle…