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Last Word Women's hockey belongs in the Olympics--but not until Europe can cut the ice

Canada wreaked its terrible retribution for the Jamie Sale-David
Pelletier pairs skating fiasco on Wednesday, beating Russia 7-0
in a women's hockey game that was as fair a fight as George W.
Bush vs. the killer pretzel. Canada-Russia has been the magical
matchup in international hockey since the 1972 Summit Series,
but the thrill obviously does not cross gender lines. For 60
grim minutes Canada pressed while Russia packed its defenders
around goalie Irina Gashennikova. The strategy worked against
Napoleon but not against Danielle Goyette and Hayley
Wickenheiser, who combined for three goals and two assists. The
Canadians outshot Russia 60-6 but took showers anyway.

The U.S.-Canada final next Thursday could be the most fabulous
event of these Games, but the rest of the tournament offers so
little in the way of competition or high-caliber play it should
make the IOC and International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF)
blush. Of course, the IOC has a relatively high threshold for
embarrassment, but in the first three days of the tournament the
U.S. dispatched Germany 10-0 (shots: 57-8), and Canada began its
sweep of the former Soviet Union by thrashing Kazakhstan 7-0
(shots: 66-11) before meeting Russia. Finland can play a little,
but the level of the other five countries is below the most
meager definition of Olympic. One, Sweden, which qualified by
finishing seventh at the world championships, almost pulled out
because its Olympic committee didn't think the team physically
strong or technically proficient enough. (The committee had a
change of heart in December.)

Women's hockey is still in its infancy (the first worlds were
contested in 1990), and the game has to start somewhere, just as
the men's did in 1920 when the U.S. pasted Switzerland 29-0 in
Antwerp. But the Olympics aren't the place.

"They've rushed women's hockey," says Stefan Lindeberg, the
Swedish Olympic committee president who made the belated call to
send a women's team here. "They rushed it when they put women's
ice hockey in Nagano with six teams, and then they added two
more. I would have expected the IIHF to do more to develop the
women's game during that period."

The problem of competitive imbalance is far beyond the scope of
the IIHF as long as, in Europe, women's hockey is considered a
burden rather than a potential boon for the national federations.
"There is a serious problem with attitude toward the women's game
by the federations in Europe," says IIHF spokesman Szymon
Szemberg. "They don't get any of the respect you see in North
America." Nor do they get the numbers. Of the 105,675 women
players registered with the IIHF for the 2000-01 season--Canada
has the most, 53,221, and Estonia has the fewest, one, a woman
who must be dynamite on breakaways--Canadians and Americans
account for more than 85%. The pool in Russia is 322.

Coach Viacheslav Dolgushin said his Russian team is only one
year of intense training away from being competitive with the
U.S. and Canada. Maybe one light year. The scandal of the Games
is not that a Canadian figure skating pair got hosed but that
fans are paying top dollar to see egregious hockey. It's the
fault of the federations, not the players, but at $75 a ticket,
that's still petty theft. --Michael Farber

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO For the women, Canada-Russia was no classic.