The feeling from the Capital's Russian athletes on Wednesday was one of disappointment over the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“It’s hard for athletes,” Alex Ovechkin told reporters. “Some athletes work out for maybe three years and get ready for Olympics.”
He continued, “I don't know where it goes but obviously the athletes who's not going to be in the Olympic Games because of the rules, they work so hard to get ready and do their best in Olympic Games. It is only one lifetime opportunity. It's hard.”
Ovechkin was one of the most outspoken critics of the NHL’s decision not to participate in the Olympics even going so far as to say he would still go despite the league’s decision. He later had to back down from those comments, but his passion for representing his nation has been clear so the fact that no one will be able to compete under the Russian flag in PyecongChang obviously stings the proud Moscow native.
Fellow Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov was quick to point on that the IOC’s decision affects more than just hockey players saying he felt for those athletes who compete as individuals.
“I can imagine how that feels for those athletes...who prepare like 3-4 years before the Olympics and now it's a little bit tough situation for them.”
The Olympics holds a special meaning for Russian athletes like Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. For fans in North America, they get the opportunity to watch the best hockey league in the world every year. To most Americans and Canadians, winning the Stanley Cup is the pinnacle of the sport.
For Russians, however, they grow up dreaming about winning international tournaments.
“When I've grown up,” Kuznetsov said, “I've watched all the Olympic Games and the World Championship because we don't have those cable TV back home and all we have to see just how the national team played. That's how we've grown up.”
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The IOC left a path for clean Russian athletes to still participate as neutrals under the name of “Olympic Athlete from Russia.” The decision those eligible athletes now face is whether to participate as neutrals or whether to boycott the games in protest.
Despite their shock over the IOC’s decision, it was clear both Ovechkin and Kuznetsov would still support their nation’s athletes competing under a neutral flag.
There were some reports out of Russia saying Ovechkin said the team should not go given the IOC's decision, but he denied saying that.
“I'm pretty sure they're going and I'm going to cheer for them,” he said.
Kuznetsov also echoed that sentiment saying that if he could, he would go for “the Russian fans in the tournament and if you will win the medal, they will sing the national anthem for you. That's probably what will be best when lots of Russian people will sing the national anthem.”