Winter Olympics: Ice Hockey

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The Independent Online
FOR the Soviet Union read Russia. The old superpower won seven of the nine golds on offer from 1956-1988, and then the Unified Team - all Russian - added another one at Albertville.

That team has broken up almost completely, with players heading for the riches of the National Hockey League in the United States (there is no dream team here, no NHL players are in Lillehammer), and has brought the Russians closer to their challengers this time. Their famously grumpy coach, Viktor Tikhonov, is still favourite for a fourth successive championship, although the real incentive for his players - and indeed for any other young hopefuls - is to be talent-spotted and whizzed across the Atlantic.

The event is the Winter Games' daily soap opera, much like the boxing in the summer Games, although probably with more punches. There are 12 teams taking part (Britain did not qualify), divided into two pools. Eight teams will go through from the round-robin stage. Sweden and the United States, who fought out two memorably bruising wars in Albertville, will again be the strongest challengers to Russian hegemony.