Days later, the epic Russia vs. United States Olympic hockey game is still one of the biggest stories of Sochi. The tight game, thrilling finish, and heroics of Team USA shootout specialist T.J. Oshie have provided plenty of storylines. Plus, a controversial non-goal for Russia has only added to the drama.
Not surprisingly, the conversation over the game in Russia has not been quite so positive. The disallowed goal has been a source of serious anger, with some commentators claiming that it was part of a U.S. conspiracy. Yet, for all those strong feelings, the most powerful Russian is taking it all in stride. From R-Sport:
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday chimed in on the national debate surrounding his country's disallowed goal against the United States in the Sochi Olympic hockey tournament, saying it was a mistake by the referee. [...]
"Even referees sometimes makes mistakes, here I wouldn't tar anybody with any brush, but I thought that we would win by a big margin," Putin said.
"You and I shouldn't forget that sport isn't only about skill but also about the athletes' courage, and even a good slice of luck." [...]
The disallowed goal featured heavily on Sunday's evening news on the state network Rossiya, where anchorman Dmitry Kiselyov suggested that it was included in the multimillion dollar deal that saw US network NBC lock down broadcasting rights. The Americans didn't purchase a defeat, he claimed. Rossiya is part of the state-owned VGTRK media enterprise.
It should be noted that Putin is not brushing off the episode entirely, because he pretty clearly thinks it was a bad call. On the other hand, he seems to accept the mistake as a fact of the sport, not the mark of a conspiracy (maybe because he realizes that claiming NBC paid for a win would bring up a whole bunch of questions regarding the country that is hosting the Winter Olympics in 60-degree weather). It's a mature reaction, if also a surprising one coming from a head of state with a ruthless reputation.
[Video: More to Sochi Games than competition]
On the other hand, you can read a veiled threat into the statement, too. Putin looks past the error and casts himself as a kind man, but he also notes that he expected the game to be an easy win for Russia. He's sending a message that he expects better performances in the rest of this tournament, and both the referees and the players can take it as directed towards them. When the former head of the KGB tells you to get it together, you better listen.
It's a true master class in how a leader can pass himself off as a totally friendly guy while still demanding satisfaction. Expect the Russians to win their next hockey game against Norway by an ungodly margin. Vlad will not be disappointed.
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