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
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
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

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam