Women's hockey an Olympic charade

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VANCOUVER ó I could have written this last year, or the year before. Anyone could have.

And thatís the problem.

Team Canada will play Team USA for the gold medal in womenís hockey in the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games.

A 5-0 victory over Finland in the semifinal Monday night punched Canadaís ticket to the final. Not that there was ever any doubt.

Fourteen wasted games of the supposed Olympic hockey tournament has produced nothing more than something all of us have known for years. There is no other sport like this in the Summer or Winter Games. Nor should there be.

There is nothing this predictable, nothing with so wide a gap between competent and not, nothing so lacking in drama or any of the other qualities that qualify for Olympic sport. There may be a great gold-medal game Thursday night between Canada and the USA but, in between, there are games like Monday semifinals.

There is no other sport like Olympic womenís hockey and we are thankful for that. No matter what happens Thursday night, Hayley Wickenheiser, Jennifer Botterill, Jayna Hefford and Becky Kellar will get their fourth Olympic medal. Thatís historical in content, not necessarily in context. It may be three golds and one silver for the foursome, but they will have to play better than they did against Finland to accomplish that.

But the accumulation of four Olympic medals in the four Olympics that has featured womenís hockey is both a testament to the staying power of the players, and further testimony that not all Olympic medals are created equal.

They beat no one to get the chance to play for gold. I wonder what an athlete like Erik Guay thinks of that. He finishes fifth in the downhill and fifth again in the Super G alpine race. Fifth by ticks on the clock. Not to be remembered as a medal winner.

But fifth against a field so very deep. Donít tell me Erik Guay didnít have a better Olympics than any of the womenís hockey players. Donít tell me his accomplishment isnít all the more Olympic.

So here is the dilemma for Team Canada, save for the upcoming gold-medal game. If they play at their best, which they didnít Monday night, they overwhelm the rest of a wonky field. The cumulative score of their first three games was 41-2. Thatís not sport. Certainly not Olympic sport.

If Team Canada plays its worst ó and maybe at times they were that in the semifinal victory over Finland ó they can struggle, like they did to score against the impressive Finnish netminder Noora Raty. Then they leave questions about how they perform in the only game that matters.

The Canadians and Americans are so far ahead of the rest of the world in this sport, it is not growing. Theyíre getting better, some of the world is improving slightly and most of it is regressing. Which doesnít make the Olympic hockey better, it makes it worse.

The cumulative total of the four USA wins was 40-2.

ďThey are making it easy for me.Ē said Jessie Vetter, the American goaltender.

Truth is, you or I could play goal for Canada or the U.S. and get the team to the gold-medal game. And I know Iím not much of a goalie.

There should be a cry to end this Olympic charade of imbalance, but there is not. The International Olympic Committee is happy with womenís hockey. The International Ice Hockey Federation is of the same opinion. Seemingly, they have no problems with one country winning 40-2 and another outscoring the opposition 46-2.

They donít. I do.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca


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