Russia gets its hockey gold, but at what cost?

Eric Adelson

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – If Slava Voynov still played in the NHL, he’d probably have watched the Olympic gold medal game at home on TV.

He is justifiably no longer in the NHL because of a domestic violence arrest that landed him in jail. The Russians allowed him to play here. He scored the first goal for them in the gold medal game here on Sunday. And he assisted on the power play goal that won it in overtime, as the Olympic Athletes from Russia beat Germany 4-3.

So Voynov got to play the role of sports hero in a nation that considerably softened its domestic violence laws just last year.

The former Los Angeles Kings defenseman scored first for the Russians with less than a second remaining in the first period. It broke a 0-0 deadlock and sent O.A.R. into the first intermission with a crucial lead. A back and forth game wound up in overtime, and Voynov manned the point for the game-winner at 9:41 of the extra session.

Voynov spent 90 days in jail on a misdemeanor charge of corporal injury to a spouse. The details of the 2014 incident are beyond disturbing. His wife, Marta Varlamova, reportedly told police, “My blood, all over bedroom and bathroom. And it’s not first time.”

Russian athlete Kirill Kaprizov (77) and Vyacheslav Voynov (26) celebrate after winning the men’s gold medal hockey game against Germany, 4-3. (AP)
Russian athlete Kirill Kaprizov (77) and Vyacheslav Voynov (26) celebrate after winning the men’s gold medal hockey game against Germany, 4-3. (AP)

Instead of going through deportation proceedings, Voynov returned to Russia. The Kings terminated his contract. He joined the KHL and got a chance to play in the Olympics when the NHL decided not to send its players to compete. It’s easy to see this as one more way the NHL’s decision backfired, but the blame for Voynov’s presence at the Games goes solely to Russia.

Olympics teammate Mikhail Grigorenko told the AP that Voynov “deserves to be here.”

Many would disagree.

According to a police report detailing Varlamova’s account, Voynov punched her at a Halloween party, and later choked her three times. He then kicked her and shoved her into a television, causing a gash that needed stitches.

Voynov remains suspended by the NHL. In a statement to the AP, the IOC said, “We have been reassured by the Russian National Olympic Committee (suspended) that ‘no court or other official decision has been ever rendered which would prevent Mr. Voynov from competing in international competitions and enjoying his athlete’s rights on an equal footing with other athletes. They have stressed that, ‘The court decision taken in the United States of America with regard to Mr. Voynov has been completely executed.’ ”

Voynov did not speak to Western media during these Games, despite repeated requests. In a statement after pleading no contest to the misdemeanor charges, he acknowledged “responsibility for his actions the night of the incident.”

Sunday, in PyeongChang, Voynov along with his Russian teammates capped off the 2018 Winter Olympics with gold medals wrapped around their necks, the first gold for Russian hockey since 1992. And with that, the 2018 Winter Games came to a close with a medal ceremony involving a team led by a player who has been suspended playing for a country that has been banned.

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