Olympic Torch Lighting 2014: Vladislav Tretiak Was Appropriate Choice for Honor

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2014

Irina Rodnina and Vladislav Tretiak light the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, Pool)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

It was appropriate that Vladislav Tretiak was one of two Russians to light the Olympic torch, as 24 years earlier, he was one of the biggest names in the country.

Time does truly heal all wounds.

For those unaware, the 61-year-old was a key player on the juggernaut that was the Soviet Union hockey team of the 1970s and '80s. To put that unit into context, it would be like if the "Dream Team" of the 1992 Olympics competed for two decades.

The Soviet Union didn't simply beat their opponents; they hammered them into submission. The USSR had an aura of invincibility that has rarely been matched by any team in any sport since. Part of that was down to the fact that Tretiak was a brick wall in front of the goal.

Then, everything changed in Lake Placid. The United States beat the Soviet Union, 4-3, in the final round, eventually winning gold, with the USSR settling for silver.

No player was more affected than Tretiak. The legendary goaltender was pulled from the first period of that 4-3 loss and never returned to the game.

Anonymous/Associated Press

Tretiak spoke with The Chicago Tribune's Steve Rosenbloom in 2002. Even then, he said he had no idea why he was benched:

He didn't know why Tikhonov made the move then. Twenty-two years later, he still doesn't.

"I didn't ask," Tretiak said. "Only Coach knows. For me, [it was a] shock. `What did you say? Tretiak isn't playing the second period.' Shock for team."

Needless to say, the defeat didn't go down well in the USSR, per Rosenbloom:

"Bad," Tretiak said of life in the Soviet Union after those Games. "For the Soviet Union, only gold medals. No silver. People were mad about us."

"I waited for the next Olympic Games to win a gold medal, because for four years, I have questions. On the street, in the bus. Questions."

Even with a gold medal in Sarajevo, the lasting image of Tretiak for many will forever be of him letting in that critical goal in the waning seconds of the first period of that loss to the U.S. It's not fair to a player of his ability, as he's one of the best goaltenders in hockey history and one of the greatest Russian athletes of all time.

Eventually, attitudes simmered. Fans can only stew over one loss for so long, and the success of 1984 helped to dull some of the pain.

As a result, Tretiak stopped being public enemy No. 1 in the Soviet Union, and his accomplishments with the national team were viewed in their proper context.

There wasn't a better way for the Russian federation to show this than to have Tretiak join figure skater Irina Rodnina in lighting the Olympic torch. This is an honor reserved for only the greatest of their generation, and there's no doubting that Tretiak stood out from the rest during his time between the pipes.

Although he was named president of the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia in 2006, it wasn't until Friday night in Sochi that Tretiak's Olympic career came full circle.