Caitlin Cahow: Yes, There Is Crying In Ice Hockey

Fresh from serving on the official U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, two-time Olympic medalist and three-time World Champion women’s hockey player Caitlin Cahow is sharing her observations about the people, politics and stories surrounding the Games with NewNowNext. (Read her other columns for us here.)

U.S. Hockey Women's National Festival

Many have held their breath during the past few weeks of the Olympics—not just for photo finishes or impossibly big jumps—but for the other shoe to drop. It didn’t. The Sochi Olympics are closed, and the athletes, spectators, journalists and observers are on their way home. The media frenzy over threats has thankfully dissipated, replaced by memories of medals lost and won, once-in-a-lifetime performances and careers just begun.

I often mourn my nation’s preoccupation with gold medals. Yes, it’s a singular achievement but, at the same time, the Sochi Olympic Games were wonderful for me, because of the blend of outcomes.

Certainly, performances like Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s will live on forever as the epitome of Olympic success. They should. They were perfect. Their history together, Meryl’s grace and strength, Charlie’s momentum and footwork, their synchrony together, are impossible to miss. I was lucky enough to sit next to Brian Boitano while watching them, and despite my love of figure-skating and my own ersatz knowledge of its intricacies, his reverence for their performance made me realize just how unique they are, and how lucky we are to have them.

T.J.-OshieT.J. Oshie

The U.S. Men’s Hockey Team didn’t medal at this Olympics, a surprising outcome from a team that won silver in Vancouver. When I look back 40 years from now, I don’t think I will remember much about these Games, but I will remember T.J. Oshie, and the penalty shots heard around the world. Six for eight. Ten minutes that pulled everyone I know from whatever they were doing to the nearest TV or computer screen. Oshie became the king of clutch. He has given us license to dream again.

It’s a fantasy so many of us have entertained growing up as athletes, and it’s a beautiful gift to future generations of backyard warriors, with the game and the hopes of a nation on the line, no time left on the clock, what are you capable of?

More importantly, he did it right. Not only did he have a once-in-a-lifetime moment in the spotlight, his reaction was perfect. Told in a post-game interview that he was now an American hero, Oshie didn’t miss a beat: He responded that no, the heroes are the men and women in camouflage. It isn’t often that we get to celebrate the selflessness of professional athletes. The Olympics always seem to create a platform for people to say and do the right things. It is a spirit against which no one is impervious, regardless of your salary, and why the Olympics are so critical despite all misgivings.

Then there was Steven Holcomb, winning bronze in the two-man and four-man bobsled, breaking a 62-year drought in the process. Steven won gold in the four-man in Vancouver, but to look at his reaction after he and his team crossed the finish line in Sochi, I could actually feel his elation.

This may seem obvious, but I am constantly amazed by the criticism addressed to athletes who allow their emotions to come through following their performances. Of course, I am speaking about women’s hockey. The U.S. was favored going into Sochi. Their success in the World Championships and their record on the pre-Olympic tour made their odds of winning gold very good. They were up 2-0 with under four minutes to play. But a screenplay-worthy sequence of events found them in overtime with the greatest clutch player in the women’s game, Marie-Phillipe Poulin of Team Canada, finding the back of the net for her second goal of the game—and Canada’s fourth straight gold medal in women’s hockey.

Had I been on the ice, I would have dissolved. These women have devoted their entire lives to hockey. In the last four years they have trained tirelessly in pursuit of one opportunity. Those who have graduated from college, have lived in either Minneapolis or Boston, many of them away from their families, training full time on a hand-to-mouth stipend with nothing but passion, dreams and love for teammates and country to keep them going.

There is one professional women’s league in North America, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. All of the post graduates on Team Canada and Team USA play in the CWHL. It is easily the best women’s hockey in the world, and none of the athletes get paid. Every weekend, there is a matchup with the same skill and passion we all saw on the Olympic stage. These players know each other in a way that, if they were male athletes, would already be the subject of books movies and myth.

There is no other team in the world who can challenge the U.S. or Canada in women’s ice hockey right now. Other nations have had their moments, and some do a better job of supporting their female athletes than others, but the reality is that women’s hockey is still a two-horse race. I won’t speak to critics who believe women’s hockey shouldn’t be an Olympic sport. I would simply refer you to the history of hockey on the men’s side and Soviet domination of the sport throughout most of the 20th century. Amazingly, men’s ice hockey has never been threatened by removal from the Olympics.

The opportunity to play for your country is the highest honor. Winning an Olympic medal for your country is the highlight of a career. But for American and Canadian female hockey players, there is even more at stake—they’re defending their sport and their gender. When these athletes look back, they will be proud of their accomplishments, but in the moment after Team USA lost the only game they ever wanted to play in, they were overcome with emotion.

Women's Ice Hockey Gold Medal Game Women's Ice Hockey Gold Medal Game

Some criticized team members for crying, but I loved seeing it—because it demonstrated how much that game mattered. It was pure and unfabricated. It showed the power of amateur athletics, when there are no bonuses at stake, only pride. These women are the role models we want for our nation. They make me proud to call myself an American. I am grateful to them for renewing my Olympic spirit.


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