SOCHI, Russia — The most impressive part of the women’s hockey final took place off the ice. Nearly an hour after the United States lost gold in overtime, nearly 30 minutes after the players tearfully accepted silver medals, nearly 15 minutes after they stood respectfully for the Canadian national anthem, the players walked through the media mixed zone in the bowels of the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
The women were still in uniform with silver medals draped around their necks and flower bouquets from the medal ceremony in hand. They didn’t have time to process what happened, how they held a two-goal lead late in the third period, how they stood 54.6 seconds away from the gold that had eluded them since women’s hockey made its Olympic debut in 1998.
Some were too upset to talk. But most answered questions with watery eyes, talking as openly and honestly as they could about what was arguably the biggest, toughest loss of their athletic careers. Forward Kelli Stack admitted she preferred talking with reporters instead of heading back to the locker room, taking off her Team USA uniform, and confronting the bitter end of the Olympic tournament.
“It will take time [to understand what happened],” said defenseman Gigi Marvin. “I think, we were focused so much, it’s tough. It came down to one goal and they put the puck in the net. I’m very, very proud of every one of my teammates, everything we’ve gone through together, it’s about so much more than 60 minutes. There’s a whole lifetime that was etched into this, this entire experience represents so much more than these 60 minutes. Yes, we wanted to win, yes, we’ll come out of it, but right now it’s just kind of . . . the hurting process.”
Gold-medal moments usually get all the attention. Arms raised in triumph, the joyful tears, the crowd shots of proud parents. But the raw emotion of losing, particularly the gold in overtime or on a last run, can be more compelling. In the case of the women’s hockey final on Thursday and women’s bobsled final runs on Wednesday, gold-turned-to-silver provided oddly inspiring scenes.
Eyes were moist in the bobsled finish area, too, but pilot Elana Meyers and sprinter-turned-brakeman Lauryn Williams didn’t flinch when recounting how gold slipped away. The pair who raced as USA-1 entered the final day of the women’s two-man competition with an 0.23-second lead over Canada. The lead was cut to 0.11 seconds before the fourth and final run, then became a one-10th-of-a-second deficit in the final standings. Adding to the disappointment, Meyers and Williams had set the Sanki Sliding Center track and start record during earlier Olympic runs.
Despite little time to think about what went wrong, Meyers had already focused on the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
“I have to go back and train even harder for Pyeongchang,” said Meyers. “We’ve been battling back and forth all year with Canada. It’s been super fun to have that kind of competition. She got the best of me now, but we’ll see in four years.”
When asked about the common gold-or-nothing perception in the US, Meyers added: “The biggest thing is knowing we gave everything we had. We left it all out there. That’s really what it’s about, going out there and doing everything you can to fight for your country. That’s what we did. I can’t be happier with that. Hopefully, America will forgive me, but I fought.”
The emotions of the US women’s hockey players were more raw. And it was more painful to watch the aftermath of the gold-medal game, especially knowing the intensity of the rivalry between the US and Canada. Even more difficult, the Canadian players stood feet away from the Americans in the mixed zone, talking about their come-from-behind triumph. The US players could hear the elation in their voices and see their gold medals.
But unlike Meyers, some of the hockey players will not be back for another shot at gold in Pyeongchang. After four Olympics with three silvers and a bronze to show for it, 31-year-old US forward Julie Chu probably won’t be back as a player.
“You take a deep breath and you swallow it,” said Chu. “I wanted to be on that ice. Everybody did. When they scored, it’s like, OK, get back to square one. But it’s tough. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Just because we didn’t win today doesn’t mean we’re going to fragment, that we’re going to go our separate ways. This is a team, whether we win or lose. I’m proud of that.”
And having been on the losing end of a gold-medal game three times in her career, what advice did Chu have for her teammates?
“I brought the girls together at the end,” said Chu. “Win or lose, we’ve always done this together. I said the big thing is, keep your heads up high. There’s nothing to be ashamed of today. Be proud of the way we played today. Be proud of the team we are.”