By Igor Kleyner
Photo: Patrick Smith
With only a couple games left before the NHL shuts down for the Olympics, the international hockey press’ interest in Capitals captain and Sochi goodwill ambassador Alex Ovechkin has increased from Unhealthy to Insatiable. Speaking with Sovetsky Sport correspondent Pavel Lysenkov during his recent pre-Olympic media tour, Alex Ovechkin recounted Olympics of yore, cheering fiancee Maria Kirilenko onto winning bronze in London, and meeting 22-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps.
And also the time he nearly wrecked his car a few weeks ago, but didn’t. So that’s good.
Your translated interview is below.
Do you miss Washington with Semyon Varlamov in goal, young Ovechkin and Semin on offense, veterans Fedorov and Kozlov, and Bruce Boudreau as the head coach?
I miss Sema [Alex Semin]. And especially Sergei Fedorov. In my opinion, he was my best teammate – both as a person, and a player as well. It’s boring without friends like that, with whom you always can chat and share what’s in your soul. But such is fate. It’s a big business. And you don’t decide anything.
Team Russia head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov asked Evgeny Malkin directly what line he feels most comfortable playing on during Olympics.I am not asking the same question. But which line do you consider the best in your career?
I was experiencing real exhilaration in Quebec. Remember our line: myself, Sergei Fedorov, and Sema? We didn’t need to change or invent anything, because we played together in Washington. We lost in the Stanley Cup playoffs – and promptly flew to join Sbornaya. The other World Championships, everything was different. You had to learn to play with someone else, develop understanding. But the last golden tournament, when I was on the line with Pasha [Pavel] Datsyuk and Sasha [Alex] Semin, it also turned out very successful for the team and the country.
So, Quebec – that was the top notch chemistry?
Exactly. Sergei was the leader of our pack. Everything came from him. He was the conductor of our game.
Did you suffer a lot when you were put on the 4th line for the 2007 Worlds, and the 3rd line for 2010? You were doing someone else’s job on the ice.
If I say suffer, that would be improper toward the people I was playing with. Of course I am used to getting a lot of ice time in order to show the leadership qualities. But sometimes the coach sees you in a different role. And he thinks that’s how the team is going to win. You don’t discuss that, just execute.
Let’s say a few good words about Bilyaletdinov, who you know since your youth.
Once you said, “He took me in like a puppy when I was 16, and taught me everything about hockey.” Semenov was my first coach at Dynamo. And then Bilyaletdinov came, he started teaching me a lot of things about hockey. What to do, what to work on, how to conduct yourself. He was tough, but in a good way. This coach knows me from my youth, he sees me grow – of course now we understand each other at half-word.
When was Bilyaletdinov particularly tough on you?
For example, when I was making bad mistakes on defense, losing my player. It’s not a secret, Zinetula Khaydarovich has a very strong system – but if one player misses out, everything falls apart. If you did something wrong, it’s your fault. And I was young, so sometimes I was the lightning rod.
And what did you learn from Oleg Znarok when you were with Dynamo Moscow?
The whole team taught me, not just the head coach. It was a unique group. Champions. Because the guys there are very tight, do everything together. And Oleg Valerievich always tells the truth to your face. Whatever it may be…
So, he just says: “You screwed up today, Ovechkin”?
Yes. There is no pretense. “Oh, well, Sanya, you played well, just unlucky.” if you played bad, that’s what he is going to say: “You screwed up.” – “I understand, I will learn a lesson.” Znarok is a real man. You can call him any time. Share what’s in your soul. You can tell him “Valerich, I feel crappy.” And he can cheer you up.
This is your third Olympics. What do you recall about Turin [in] 2006?
My first winter Games. I scored the winning goal against the Canadians in the quarterfinals. Unforgettable experience. Meeting the greatest players, whom you had been admiring from outside.
But you were very disappointed.
Yes, there is this old anecdote about an old mare, who was in a race: “ I am sorry, I couldn’t.”
What’s there to remember? We beat Canada – the main team, that was supposed to win the Olympics. You can call it an act of sporting heroism. But then we lost to the Finns, and then to the Czechs in the bronze medal game. Missed out on medals altogether!
Zhenya [Evgeni] Malkin’s suspension, when he kicked a Canadian with his skate, affected us. It was difficult. But don’t count it as an excuse.
And the second Olympics in Vancouver?
It’s impossible to forget that quarterfinal against the Canadians, when we were crushed – 3 to 7. You remember the score, certain moments. But the most disappointing was how not just two-three people turned on you, but the majority of those who had supported you. The society and the press reaction was extremely negative. The “experts” were really having a blast, the ones who like to do PR and raise their name at the expense of another human being.
You have to forget about such difficult moments, in order to go forward. Right now I am only thinking about Sochi.
You were cheering for Masha Kirilenko during 2012 Olympics, and your fiancé together with Nadezhda Petrova won the bronze. Is such a medal valuable for you personally?
I was just a fan. Masha and Nadya earned it. I do not understand the people who underappreciate a bronze medal. It’s like a little gold for those who are playing for the third place. It also takes a lot of effort and sweat.
Is it true that you weren’t even recognized and allowed into the gym in London?
Most likely that’s how it is during all tournaments [laughing]. I am not very famous in the tennis circles.
Recently you met Michael Phelps, who won 18 gold medals for Team USA in swimming. And he came to Washington’s game to ask you to sign your jersey!
Now he owes me something from his outfit – he promised! But not the trunks – I already have those. What did we talk about? Michael just wished me luck. He lives in Baltimore; it’s close to Washington.
The words don’t even matter. You just admire what the person achieved in his life. He is a living legend, if you look at all his titles and awards.
Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Sedin brothers, Roberto Luongo, and many other foreigners say openly that they are afraid to bring their family to Sochi. They are worried about their safety. Why are they afraid to go to Russia?
Everybody has a point of view regarding safety. It’s dangerous to live in America as well. Look at how many acts of terrorism happen all over the world! Just remember September 11th. I don’t even know how you compare tragedies, say where it is better. Let everybody decide for themselves.
What do you most value in women?
And in men?
What’s your weakness?
You can write that I like sweets.
What about your strength?
I am very stubborn.
Who did you want to be as a child?
A hockey player. As early as I remember myself.
What can you forgive?
In principle, you can forgive everything. Everybody makes mistakes, decisions that are not thought through.
What about betrayal?
That I cannot forgive.
When were you scared the most in your life?
A few days ago. It started snowing in Washington, and I skidded, lost control. The car was just spinning. It’s a very unpleasant feeling when you lose control of the situation and about to crash into some concrete pillar.
What did you do?
Just hung onto the steering wheel. I tried to do something, but the car was out of control. Thank god the speed was low.
Take care of yourself, Sasha!
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