Sports

Bernstein: Russia’s Hockey Failure Is Delicious

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Sad Russian fan. (Getty Images)

Sad Russian fan. (Getty Images)

Dan-Bernstein Dan Bernstein
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since...
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By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist

(CBS) That was the gold medal game, and we won.

It doesn’t matter who actually finishes where, now, or which anthem gets played at the end — the Americans’, the Canadians’, whatever. I’m not waving any flags. Going into these Olympics, all I wanted was for the Russian men’s hockey team to lose and for their despotic, bigoted president to be internationally embarrassed.

Kiitos, Suomi. Onnittelu.

Vladimir Putin himself made it clear that this would be his nationalistic showcase, the event of the events, with the former KGB lieutenant colonel expressing in certain terms that the team was a direct representation of the interests of the Kremlin and the country. This was to be a symbolic reaffirmation of Russian power, on home ice.

He has wielded his own influence in the unprecedented expenditure on these Sochi games amid allegations of deep and widespread corruption and the deaths of construction workers, and in oppressive policies discriminating against the LGBT community. Putin, always one to butch himself up by waving guns and riding horses, hitched himself to hockey for his man’s-man moment of rough toughness.

And the Finns just gelded him.

The style of Finland’s 3-1 quarterfinal win on Wednesday was particularly satisfying, too. Even after Ilya Kovalchuk scored eight minutes in, Finland continued to play its intelligent, opportunistic game, countering superior overall skill. Juhamatti Aaltonen scored, then captain Teemu Salanne did. Then it was Mikael Granlund with a power-play goal, and the nervous silence in the Bolshoy Ice Dome. Over the final 35 minutes, Finland’s deliberate neutral-zone traps, dedicated shotblocking by defensemen and Tuukka Rask’s precise positional goaltending slowly squeezed the life out of a team carrying an immense political burden.

Semyon Varlamov surrendered all three goals, and he was pulled midway through the second period, adding some butter-cream frosting atop this delectable cake of schadenfreude. Varlamov is the guy accused of stomping on his girlfriend’s chest, dragging her around by her hair and telling her he’d beat her worse if they were back home in Russia instead of in Denver. Prosecutors dropped charges after weighing evidence but insisted that they believed the victim’s claims. So have a nice day, dude.

Pavel Datsyuk also has a problem with gay people, it seems. Any distress for him is fine, also.

Others are reveling in this result, enjoying the emblematic defeat. Patrick Burke is the president of the You Can Play Project, which has organized and educated sports across amateur and professional levels to eagerly accept gay athletes. His tweets included:

I haven’t had any rooting interest in any of this outside of this team in this event, only wanting the Russians to come up with something other than the gold medal sought by a bad guy. Even a loss in the championship game would have sufficed.

But this is even better, with catcalls rained down on them by home fans with enough energy to muster up such disdain, and the rest of them ashen-faced and sullen. No medal, no shot at one and no chance to fly a proud banner of old prejudice.

Do Svidaniya, Vlad.

Nothing like starting a day with a rainbow.

Follow Dan on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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