Updated: Friday, 21 February 2014 20:20 | By Agence France-Presse

Ice hockey rivalry fans Olympic flames in US

An ice hockey win with a whiff of Cold War nostalgia helped draw US fans' focus from pre-Olympics problems to sporting prowess as they watched the Sochi Games unfold from afar.


Ice hockey rivalry fans Olympic flames in US

US goalkeeper Jonathan Quick (left) makes a save from Russia's Pavel Datsyuk during the penalty shootout in the Men's Ice Hockey Group A match at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 15, 2014 in Sochi - by Jonathan Nackstrand

It was just a group stage win, but the US men's 3-2 victory over hosts Russia in a shootout thriller helped shift a conversation that had seen sports overshadowed by fears of terrorism and concerns over the host nation's human rights record.

The victory, which left Russian commentators complaining bitterly about a disallowed Russian goal in the third period, had some US media harkening back to the United States' 1980 "Miracle on Ice" triumph over the mighty Soviet Union team en route to gold in Lake Placid.

In truth, the match-up of teams both stocked with National Hockey League stars bore little resemblance to that David and Goliath clash.

But it resonated in the US sports consciousness in a way that other outstanding Sochi performances, including a podium sweep in the new Olympic sport of slopestyle skiing, could not.

Sure, the slopestyle trio of Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper were given their due in Sports Illustrated, which pointed out that they notched just the second US podium sweep in Winter Games history.

However, it wasn't the young trail blazers who graced the cover of the weekly magazine as the Olympics reached their halfway stage, but venerated Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and his freshman star Jabari Parker.

With US downhill queen Lindsey Vonn sidelined by injury and Shaun White and Shani Davis denied in gold medal repeat bids, America was hanging its hat on men's hockey.

The USA-Russia game was a boon to NBC as the US broadcaster grappled with the problem of delivering delayed coverage of the Games in the age of instant information.

Four years ago, NBC had the luxury of showing key events from Vancouver live in its prime time evening viewing period.

- Voicing outrage on Twitter -

This time around, those hours of evening coverage are tape-delayed and fans have plenty of avenues for checking results or seeing streamed coverage on the Internet.

In a nod to the new reality, NBC is using its own cable channels -- NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC -- to offer live, or at least "plausibly live" coverage of some events.

The move paid off when 4.1 million viewers tuned into watch the US ice hockey win over Russia on the first Saturday of the Games -- the audience climbing as high as 6.4 million during the shootout to give NBCSN the most-watched half-hour in its history.

But the network came in for harsh criticism for its handling of alpine skier Bode Miller after the 36-year-old veteran won bronze in the super-G.

Fans blasted interviewer Christin Cooper as insensitive and disrespectful after Miller broke down in tears when talking about his brother, Chelone Miller, who died in April.

Among those voicing outrage on Twitter was Mike Eruzione -- a US winter sports icon thanks to his captaincy of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team.

"Some announcers just don't know when to stop asking questions," Eruzione tweeted.

Miller himself took to Twitter to defend Cooper, the tempest showing just how big a role social media now plays in forming perceptions of the Games.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White skated exquisitely to give the United States its first ever Olympic ice dance gold.

They dazzled the judges in Sochi and fans Stateside, but it was figure skater Ashley Wagner whose image went viral -- her beaming "thumbs-up" reaction to her short programme in the team event swiftly changing to a scowl of disgust at her score that was an instant Internet sensation.

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