Winter Olympics 2014: Russia's ice hockey poster boy fails to get President Putin smiling

No Russian player has spent longer on the ice than Alexander Ovechkin but he has been unable to guide his country directly into the quarter-finals

For four minutes the script followed the narrative penned somewhere deep within the Kremlin. Game one, period one of Russia's opening ice hockey pool match against Slovenia in front of a full house in the Bolshoy, the glittering dome that rises in the middle of the Olympic Park, and Alexander Ovechkin had scored one and set up one. "Alexander the Great" was off to conquer new lands, to bring modern Russia its first Olympic gold in the sport that obsesses a nation.

Around Sochi the red shirt with Ovechkin stencilled across its back is worn by men, women and children. His gap-toothed smile grins down from billboards. Think David Beckham at his peak, multiply it by a population of 143 million and add extensive interest from the United States as well. Ovechkin, born in Moscow, lives in Washington DC where he captains the Capitals. He is in the sixth year of a 13-year contract worth $124m (£74m). At the time it was signed it was a record deal in the NHL. This man is a big deal here.

Which is why what has happened, or rather not happened, since those first four minutes has become a cause for national concern. No Russian player has spent longer on the ice than Ovechkin but he has been unable to guide his side directly into the quarter-finals. There has not been a goal or an assist since game one. Defeat in a shoot-out to the United States, in which Ovechkin was a marginal figure, was followed by a 1-0 victory over Slovakia only via a shoot-out. The US beat Slovakia 7-1. With Russia finishing two points shy of the US in Group A and lying fifth overall, they now face Norway in a play-off to earn a quarter-final place.

"Of course we'd want to play one match less, but this way we will stay in good form," said Ovechkin. The problem with that line of defence is that he and his team are not in good form in the first place.

In neither shoot-out has the Russia coach, Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, entrusted his main man to take on the responsibility. Bilyaletdinov is a survivor of the Soviet Union's defeat to the US in the 1980 final, the infamous or famous, depending on your side of the Iron Curtain, "Miracle on Ice".A US win here would be no miracle, neither would a Russian one. But it would be an utterly memorable one for the host nation.

The Soviets won every gold from 1956, their debut Games, to 1992 apart from two US interruptions (the Americans also won on home soil in 1960). Since the break-up of the Soviet Union there has been a gradual decline; silver in 1998, bronze in 2002, fourth in 2006 and sixth in Vancouver.

Ovechkin played in the last two Games and despite his stellar standing, his trophy cabinet is bare of the two honours that matter most. There are two World Championship medals but no Stanley Cup medals or Olympic medals.

His mother, Tatyana, has two of her own – won in basketball in 1976 and 1980. According to Tatyana, her son's future was determined from the age of two when he took hold of a stick and helmet in a Moscow toy shop and refused to let go.

Born five years after Russian last hosted the OIympics, Ovechkin has become almost as closely associated with these Games as Vladimir Putin. He was the first to carry the Olympic torch. The president and a nation expects a happy ending.

There is still scope for one. Russia have never lost to Norway and, should they make the quarters, they will face Finland, then probably Sweden in the last four. That would leave a final against the US or Canada, the defending champions. To strike gold at the end of it all though needs the "Great Eight", to use his other nickname, to add up to the sum of his parts.

News
Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
people
News
people
Environment
The plant ‘Nepenthes zygon’ was donated to Kew in 2004
environment
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Life and Style
Fraud contributes 11p to a £2.00 box of half a dozen eggs
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital