- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The Olympics used to be so simple – the good guys vs. the bad guys.

That was the Miracle on Ice in 1980 – the American kids vs. the mighty Soviet hockey empire, David vs. Goliath, one of the great sports stories of our time.

It seems like a fairy tale now that we tell our children, who must be confused by it.

Here’s the fairy tale for these Winter Olympics if you are growing up as a hockey fan in Washington – you hope that the Russian hockey legend who is one of the city’s biggest sports stars can win the gold medal in his home country – beating the Americans if necessary.

If you were a Washington hockey fan growing up as a kid in the 1980s, you, like many hockey kids around the country, may have had a poster of Jim Craig with the American flag draped around him hanging on your wall.

Now kids here likely have an Ovechkin poster. They wear an Ovechkin jersey.

Who should they root for in Sochi?

Confusing times, indeed.

Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates called Ovechkin leading his team to the gold medal a fairy tale ending.

“I said to him, ‘You’ve got to go over there and be the fastest, hard-working guy you can possibly be, because that’s what they’ll remember if something bad happens,’” Oates told reporters before the Games began. “If something good happens, great. It’s a Cinderella story. It’s a fairy tale, right? And that’s what we all hope for him.”

We do? Last time I checked, Oates was Canadian.

If he truly hopes his star player has a fairy tale ending in the Sochi games, that story doesn’t end with a Canadian gold medal.

See? Very confusing.

Capitals forward Tom Wilson is confused. This is what he tweeted as the Capitals went into the Olympics break with a win over the New Jersey Devils Saturday night: “Wishing all our Olympians the best of luck in Sochi! Can’t say who I’m cheering for though….”

It should be clear to Wilson who he should be cheering for. He, like Oates, is Canadian.

But he has five teammates who will be competing in the Games – Ovechkin, John Carlson for the United States, Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom for Sweden and Martin Erat for the Czech Republic.

What about Washington Capitals fans born and raised in the United States of America?

Who will you be rooting for?

If the Americans face Ovechkin and the Russians and win, it would be an upset and a great moment for U.S. hockey. It wouldn’t be the Miracle on Ice, but it would be some measure of the development of American-born hockey players.

An American win over the Russians would also be a victory of sorts against the corruption and excess of Vladimir Putin and his $51 billion winter festival of fraud, a finger in the eye of a country that sanctions violence and attacks against gays with laws that basically forbid this segment of the population to exist.

An American victory in front of Putin over his highest-profile Olympian – Ovechkin – wouldn’t exactly be Jesse Owens’ four gold medals in front of Adolf Hitler in the 1936 Summer Olympics, but it should bring a level of satisfaction to those who still recognize the good guys and the bad guys.

The problem for Capitals fans is that such a loss would be crushing for Ovechkin, and likely send him into a funk coming back from the games – like it did in 2010 – that could send the team into a tailspin while they are fighting for their playoff lives.

So the question facing Capitals fans is the reversal of the issue that has dogged Ovechkin – what’s more important, a Stanley Cup championship or an Olympic gold medal?

No one is doubting that Ovechkin desperately wants to win a Stanley Cup. He carries the burden of the Capitals on his shoulders, a franchise that has never won the prize. But growing up in Russia, the son of an Olympian (his mother was a two-time gold medal winner in women’s basketball), what do you think his dreams were – to win a Stanley Cup or a gold medal for his country?

For Capitals fans, the issue is this – if a happy, motivated Ovechkin means winning the gold medal and having your American team lose in the process, who will you be rooting for?

You might want to learn these words:

“Russia is our sacred state,
Russia is our beloved land.
The powerful strength and the great glory
Are your properties for all the time.”

It’s the beginning of the Russian national anthem. It could be the Capitals Stanley Cup fight song.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,”noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com