United States hopes of capturing Olympic men’s hockey gold for the first time since 1980 were crushed on Wednesday with a 3-2 quarter-final shootout loss to the undefeated Czech Republic.
Petr Koukal scored the only goal in a penalty shootout while goaltender Pavel Francouz blanked the Americans to lift the Czechs into the semi-finals.
“They had good moves. I was stretching so much,” Francouz said. “We were the lucky team. We haven’t had any easy games in the tournament. That has made us stronger.”
In search for their first gold medal in 20 years, the Czechs advanced into a Friday matchup against the winner of a later quarter-final between the Olympic Athletes from Russia and Norway.
“We know we have a tough game in front of us,” Czech captain Martin Erat said. “We have to play our own style and focus on ourselves.”
Koukal faked and when US goaltender Ryan Zapolski moved, flipped the puck past him on the decisive shot.
“I’m so happy it was a goal,” Koukal said. “It’s a big moment for me. I know the Czech people are so happy.”
“It’s a huge disappointment because we were right there,” US captain Brian Gionta said.
Former NHLer Jim Slater, whose shorthanded breakaway equalised for the Americans in the second period, was dismayed at the finish.
“Disappointed. Frustrated. I feel pretty empty right now. To lose at the Olympics that way is pretty tough,” Slater said.
“We thought we were good enough to challenge for a gold medal.”
Francouz, who made 18 saves in the game, denied Bobby Butler on the Americans’ final chance to seal the triumph but said his toughest shootout stop was on Olympic goals leader Ryan Donato, the Harvard University star who netted his fifth of the tournament in the first period.
“I kind of lost the puck. I was lucky there,” Francouz said.
While the NHL’s top stars are absent for the first time since 1994 over money and injury issues, no drama was lacking on a day when four teams ensure playing for a medal and four are sent home empty handed.
“It’s not the ending we wanted but I gained some brothers on this team,” US forward Troy Terry said. “It was a life-long experience.”
Donato scored off a Terry pass 6:20 into the first period, but Czech defenceman Jan Kolar equalised 8:52 later on a blue-line slapshot and defenceman Tomas Kundratek gave the Czechs a 2-1 lead in the second period before Slater’s equaliser.
There were thousands of empty seats, with some whole lower-level sections vacant in the half-full arena.
Lindsey Vonn’s bid for a second Olympic downhill gold medal came unstuck Wednesday as the US ski star finished third in the women’s blue riband event won by “crazy” close friend Sofia Goggia of Italy.
Goggia described herself as a “samurai” after timing 1min 39.22sec for a first ever downhill title for the Italian women’s team.
The 25-year-old came in 0.09sec ahead of Norway’s giant slalom silver medallist Ragnhild Mowinckel, with Vonn a further 0.42sec adrift.
Goggia made a mistake on the upper part of the polished 2.8km-long Jeongseon course, but produced a magnificent gliding mid-section and strong bottom third.
It reaffirmed the fine form she has shown on the World Cup circuit this season, with two victories and two second places in the downhill, and also second and third placings in the super-G.
“I was really focused, I moved like a samurai,” said Goggia, her head coach Massimo Rinaldi labelling her as “crazyhorse”.
“Usually, I’m really chaotic, but I wanted to take in every little detail, every particular in the morning. I believed in myself — and then what counts. I didn’t take any risks. I just used my brain because I have one sometimes and I use it!”
Rinaldi said it was a “special” day for Italy, adding: “Sofia’s always skiing fast, always skiing 110 percent, sometimes the mistakes come, but she’s always trying to do her best.”
Vonn made few errors in her descent, but it was just not enough, Mowinckel providing a surprise factor with her second place after starting 19.
After the race Vonn, 33, confirmed that it would be her last Olympic downhill and said: “I gave it all today, skied a great race. Sofia just skied better than I did.
“It’s sad. It’s my last downhill. I wish I could keep going, I’m having so much fun and I love what I do, but my body just can’t take another four years,” she said.
“But I’m proud to be competing for my country, giving it all and proud to come away with a medal.”
Mowinckel followed up on her giant slalom podium with another strong showing for Norway, which now tops the alpine medal table with six.
“Well, we do have a lot of snow up there in Norway,” she said. “It’s a great environment for winter sports and there’s saying that ‘we are born with skis on our feet’.”
Vonn’s bronze at least made up for disappointment of her sixth place in the super-G when an error at the bottom cost a podium place in a sensational race won by Czech snowboarder Ester Ledecka.
All eyes were again on Vonn, winner of 81 World Cup races, as she started the second race in her Pyeongchang Games campaign in brilliant sunshine.
Dressed in a figure-hugging white catsuit with red and blue stripes, Vonn reached speeds of 115 kmh and flew more than 30 metres off the jumps.
Vonn won the blue riband title at the 2010 Vancouver Games but missed Sochi through injury.
But the gold was beyond her as she finished behind Goggia, whose friendship she has said is based on them both being “100 percent crazy”.
The pair embraced at the finish area, Vonn allowing herself a slight look skywards, a sigh and shrug of the shoulders.
She at least broke the record for oldest female medallist in alpine skiing, previously held by Austrian Michaela Dorfmeister when she won the super-G in 2006.
A doping case involving a medal-winning Russian curler rocked the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Monday, as Mikaela Shiffrin’s turbulent Games took another twist when she pulled out of the downhill skiing.
Alexander Krushelnitsky’s failed drug test came to light a week after he won mixed doubles bronze with his wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova, and could extend Russia’s suspension from the Olympics.
The case, now with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, will be considered by Olympic officials deciding whether to lift Russia’s ban in time for Sunday’s closing ceremony.
“Should this case be proven… that will also be part of the consideration as to whether there will be an allowance for them to march in the closing ceremony under their flag,” said International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams.
Russia were banned from the Olympics after investigations revealed an extensive doping plot culminating at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, where the hosts topped the medals table.
But 168 Russian athletes declared clean after extensive vetting were allowed to compete in Pyeongchang as neutrals, under the banner of “Olympic Athletes from Russia”.
“Only athletes for whom there was no suspicion were invited to the Games,” Adams said, adding: “Unfortunately wherever there’s competitive sport, you’ll have people cheating.
“But I think you can be pretty confident we have a very, very thorough testing process in place and we have the experts with the expertise who are doing that.”
Among Monday’s events, Canada and Germany shared gold when they dead-heated in the two-man bobsleigh — the first time two teams have shared the title since Nagano 1998.
Robert Johansson and his bushy handlebar moustache anchored Norway to victory in the men’s team ski jump, while Havard Lorentzen won the men’s 500m speed skating as Norway went clear on the medals table with 11 golds to Germany’s 10.
‘MY WORST NIGHTMARE’
Shiffrin arrived in Pyeongchang capable of challenging, Michael Phelps-style, for five gold medals, but it has been a tough Games so far for the American.
After bombing in the slalom and pulling out of the super-G, she announced her withdrawal from the downhill on Monday as looming bad weather forced yet another schedule change.
It means that Shiffrin, who won the giant slalom, can finish with a maximum of two individual golds, with just Thursday’s combined event left on her schedule.
“As much as I wanted to compete in the Olympic downhill, with the schedule change, it’s important for me to focus my energy on preparing for the combined,” said Shiffrin.
She made the announcement after Friday’s combined was brought forward to Thursday to avoid bad weather. The downhill is scheduled for Wednesday.
Earlier on Monday, French officials said Shiffrin’s partner, skier Mathieu Faivre, had been sent home for disciplinary reasons after an outburst following Sunday’s men’s giant slalom.
In figure skating, Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir smashed the short dance world record, but French rival Gabriella Papadakis was left in tears by an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.
As Virtue and Moir glided, twizzled and spun their way to a best-ever score of 83.67, Papadakis performed stoically with her partner Guillaume Cizeron after her dress became unclipped early in their routine.
“It was pretty distracting, my worst nightmare at the olympics,” the 22-year-old Papadakis said. “I felt it right away and I prayed.”