On Sunday 29 September 2013 in Olympia, Greece, Alexander Ovechkin became the first Russian to carry the newly lit Olympic torch, as it began its 65,000 kilometre journey through Russia, which is due to end in Sochi on 7 February 2014. The ice hockey player, who is one of his sport’s biggest international stars, and the driving force of the current Russian team, described the feeling on his Twitter feed as “The best moment of my life!”
The winger, who currently stars for Washington Capitals in the NHL, may soon have more such moments to enjoy when he takes to the rink at the Bolshoi Ice Dome at the Sochi Olympic Park. He and his team-mates are confident of securing Russia’s first ice hockey podium since Nagano 1998, when they won silver, and they even harbour hopes of emulating the victorious performance of the Unified Team at the Albertville Winter Games in 1992.
Sport in the blood
Ovechkin hails from fine sporting pedigree. He is the son of Tatyana Ovechkina (née Kabaieva), a two-time Olympic basketball champion (at Montreal 1976 and Moscow 1980), and a member of the USSR team that won the six European titles and the 1975 World Championship crown.
Meanwhile, his father, Mikhail, played football for Dynamo Moscow, the club with which the young Alexander began his ice hockey career, before turning professional at 16 and earning an international call-up the following year.
Ovechkin won the Russian Championship with Dynamo in 2005 before crossing the Atlantic, where he went on to enjoy great success with the Washington Capitals, becoming team captain and making No 8 shirt his own.
Able to play on either left or right wing, the Russian earned a reputation for his ability to shoot from any position, and boasts phenomenal scoring NHL stats. At the end of his first season Stateside he was voted rookie of the year in 2006, and went on to be named the NHL’s MVP in 2008, 2009 and 2013, topping the scoring charts on each occasion. In 2008, he also received the Art Ross trophy for the most assists and goals.
Ovechkin first made international waves as a member of the Russian team that won the Junior World Championships in 2003. He went on to compete at two editions of the Olympic Games in 2006 and 2010, helping Russia to finish fourth and sixth respectively.
He has also won two World Championship titles. In 2008 he played a key role in a memorable 5-4 overtime victory against Canada, while in 2012 he helped Russia demolish Slovakia 6-2. Idolised for his talents in both Russia and North America, he only has one major goal left to achieve.
“The Olympic Games are probably more important for Russians than any other athletes”, he says. “Since I was a little kid, like all other kids my dream was always to compete at the Olympic Games, and having the chance to represent our country in Sochi in Russia is even more of a dream. It’s unbelievable and it’s going to be a great thing. It’s going to help motivate us. Our mission is to play our best hockey and try to win the gold.”
Russia face Slovenia, the USA and Slovakia in Group A, and will be aiming to top the group in order to qualify directly for the quarterfinals. Ovechkin is confident that they can shine in Sochi: “Winter is our playground,” he says. “It will soon be time to show what we’ve got!”