To some, a Russian gold in Olympic hockey would've been sufficient to deem the Games a success for the host country, no matter the outcome of other sports. If the Olympics were Vladimir Putin's baby (they were), then Russia's hockey team, a team he publicly lauded and partially helped finance, was the apple of his eye. He even had a hand in picking the man tasked with explaining the confounding performance to the media.
Searing questions were heaped on Russia's coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov following Wednesday's stunning 3-1 loss to Finland, and given the aforementioned pressure, his answers, while candid, weren't surprising.
The transcript of one reporter-coach exchange, per the Wall Street Journal:
Q: What future, if any, do you see for your own work and for your coaching staff? Because you know, your predecessor was eaten alive after the Olympics.
A: Well then, eat me alive right now –
Q: No, I mean –
A: Eat me, and I won't be here anymore.
Q: But we have the world championship coming up..
A: Well then, there will be a different coach because I won't exist anymore, since you will have eaten me.
Q: But you're staying, aren't you?
A: Yes, I will remain living.
Other questions (How much are you at fault? Was this a catastrophe?) were lobbed at the coach, but he was obviously reticent to indulge the feisty media. Gold or bust typically isn't a solid strategy, but the Russians will be left out of the medals ceremony for a third straight Olympics.
"There were great hopes placed on us, and we didn't live up to them," Pavel Datsyuk, the Russians' best player throughout the tournament, said to Canada.com.
Questions regarding the effectiveness of using Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin on the same line along with a curious decision to start (and eventually pull) Semyon Varlamov in goal, were legitimate probes, but those answers would best be saved for another day.
When Bilyaletdinov was asked whether he would be sticking around Sochi, he curtly responded, "No, I'd rather leave."