Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Swedes win the Gold

Sweden finished out the Torino Olympics with a close win over rival Finland for the Gold medal.

Even though I'm roughly half-Swedish, I was cheering for the Finns. They were my pick to win the Gold, although I would rather have seen Team USA win it all (have to be realistic, you know). I didn't expect the Swedes to go that far since they started out so slow but they got stronger as the tournament wore on. Overall, it was great hockey, the best I've seen since the 2004 World Cup.

That's because there is incredible parity between the top teams in international hockey. As I noted earlier, any one of the top seven teams could have won it all. All three medalists from the 2002 Olympics (Canada, USA, Russia) failed to win even the bronze this time. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, four countries have won a gold medal in Olympic hockey, and six of the top seven have won at least silver. Counting other international tournaments over the past 15 years, every one of the top seven hockey teams have won at least one gold medal (Slovakia at the 2002 IIHF championships, USA at the 1996 World Cup).

Contrast that with another major international tournament, the soccer World Cup. While there are dozens of teams who participate, since 1978 there's only been a few select teams that have won it: Brazil and Argentina from South America; Germany and Italy from Europe (with host nation France getting lucky in 1998). You could make a prediction of a Brazil-Germany final in this year's World Cup and you wouldn't be very far off. While some nations are making great progress (notably the US), in the final analysis the World Cup isn't a very competitive tournament.

The level of competition at this Olympics makes me look forward to 2010. Hopefully, the NHL will continue to allow it's players to participate after that. The presence of NHL players has transformed Olympic hockey from a boring sideshow to the main event.


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