U.S. hockey leaves Sochi heartbroken, but joy for Austrian skier

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SOCHI, Russia — It’s been a tough last few days for U.S. hockey at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

First the U.S. women lost in heartbreaking fashion to arch-rival Canada, unable to protect a lead late in the third period of the final. Then the men lost to the Canadians in the semifinals Friday, ending hopes of a first men’s hockey gold since the famous Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid 34 years ago.

And now the men will be going home with no medal at all after being crushed by Teemu Selanne’s Finland 5-0 in the bronze medal game Saturday.

Surely no one saw this coming after the U.S. stunned Russia in the group stage and scored 20 goals in its first four games.

“The way we played the last two games we didn’t deserve (a medal),” U.S. captain Zach Parise told NHL.com. “We got outplayed. Coming into the final round I thought we were playing well. I’m kind of embarrassed where we’re at now.”

The 43-year-old Selanne scored two goals in what was expected to be his farewell match at the Games and Tuukka Rask made 27 saves for the shutout as Finland collected yet another hockey medal at an Olympics.

Selanne opened Finland’s account early in the second period and with the U.S. still trying to recover, Jussi Jokinen made it 2-0 11 seconds later. The U.S. didn’t recover — and some would say it didn’t recover from the defeat to Canada.

Summing up the evening for the U.S. was Patrick Kane missing penalty shots in the first two periods.

“We didn’t show up,” U.S. forward Max Pacioretty told NHL.com. “We let our country down, that’s it.”

But while there was despair for the U.S., Selanne was overjoyed and mobbed by his teammates.

“Maybe this was his last game for the national team and as a captain,” Finland coach Erkka Westerlund told reporters. “It was an excellent game to finish.”

Canada goes for a second straight gold in men’s hockey when it faces Sweden on Sunday.

Matt oldest winner

There was also disappointment for the U.S. in arguably Saturday’s biggest event, the men’s slalom, on the penultimate day of the Olympics as Ted Ligety couldn’t complete the second run. But at least Ligety already had a gold from the giant slalom.

Top spot went to Austria’s Mario Matt, a feel-good story since the 34-year-old became the oldest man ever to claim alpine skiing gold. He edged his countryman and the heavy favorite, Marcel Hirscher.

“Most impressive day in my career,” Matt told reporters. “It started 14 years ago, and I’m totally happy that I made it to the finish.”

Hirscher leads the circuit in both the slalom and overall standings and almost made up a 1.28-second first-run deficit, finishing 0.28 seconds behind Matt.

Ligety was left frustrated with the difficulty of the course and he wouldn’t have been the only one, since half of the top-10 finishers from the first run didn’t complete the second.

The casualties allowed Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen to nab the bronze. At 19, he became the youngest man to win a medal in alpine skiing.

“Not all the best guys had the chance to make it down, unfortunately, but it is what it is,” Ligety told the U.S. ski team’s website. “I would have liked to have done better, and I put myself in a position to have a chance.

“This course was difficult and it was a battle of attrition.”

Julia Dujmovits gave Austria a second gold on snow Saturday, bettering the field in snowboard’s parallel slalom.

Norwegian legend

If this was Marit Bjoergen’s last Olympics, she went out on a high.

Bjoergen led a Norwegian sweep in Nordic skiing’s 30-kilometer race to pick up her third gold of the Games and 10th Olympic medal overall — no woman has gotten more at the Winter Games.

The 33-year-old hinted that she wouldn’t be competing at the 2018 Games in South Korea.

“Four years is a long time, and I’m not getting younger,” Bjoergen told reporters. “I’m also thinking about having a family. I don’t want to do this at 90 percent.”

Wild makes history, too

Vic Wild, born in the U.S. before switching nationalities to Russia when he married a Russian snowboarder, became the first athlete to win two snowboarding gold medals at the same Olympics when he triumphed in the men’s parallel slalom ahead of Slovenia’s Zan Kosir.

Wild is snowboarding for Russia because he said funding was an issue in the U.S.

“I would not have snowboarded for the United States,” Wild told the Wall Street Journal. “I was done snowboarding. I would have moved on. I would have gone to college and I would have had a great life.

“I had another option — the only option to snowboard was to go to Russia and snowboard.”

With only three medals up for grabs Sunday, Wild boosted Russia’s chances of topping both the medal and gold-medal standings. Russia’s biathlon team also chipped in, capturing gold in the 4 x 7.5km relay despite missing eight targets.

Russia has 29 medals, leading the U.S. by two, and is tied with Norway for 11 golds.

Elsewhere, was there any doubt about who would claim the team pursuit gold medals in speed skating? Probably not.

The Netherlands have cleaned up in Sochi and the men and women stood tallest on Saturday, a fitting conclusion given the nation’s superiority on the — speed skating — ice.

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